Most people know what sexual harassment means and understand it is wrongful. However, some employees who experience sexual harassment can’t tell when it happens to them.
If you believe you’re facing sexual harassment at work, it helps to review the other person’s actions, the frequency of these behaviors, and how they make you feel with an experienced San Diego employment lawyer. An experienced employment lawyer can provide advice and guidance on how to proceed.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is behavior directed at you that makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable. When sexual harassment happens at work, it can make your work environment feel unwelcoming and even intolerable.
Both men and women can be targets of sexual harassment, with harassers also being either men or women. Sexual harassment in the workplace can happen to anyone, with harassers being supervisors, coworkers, or customers.
Sexual harassment is unlawful, and several laws exist to protect victims. However, it is critical to not only understand the signs of sexual harassment, but also what sexual harassment is not.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The FEHA covers sexual harassment in the workplace in California, as this is a form of discrimination based on gender. The FEHA describes two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
Quid pro quo means “in exchange for” or “a favor for a favor.” This type of harassment usually concerns supervisors or others in a position of power.
Quid pro quo harassment involves a higher-up asking for sexual favors or other sexual behaviors in exchange for a work benefit.
These benefits may include:
- Pay increases
- Favorable transfers
In the alternative, the harasser might put you in a position that makes it difficult to say no to the request because of potential consequences. For example, “sleep with me if you want this promotion.”
To establish quid pro quo harassment, it’s particularly helpful to have proof of your boss’s harassing communications or witness statements from individuals who can corroborate your claims.
Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment means the harasser’s unwelcome behaviors are so bad that they interfere with your work performance or create safety concerns for yourself. These actions can involve everything from catcalling to explicit comments and physical touching.
This type of sexual harassment can be a little more challenging to prove than quid pro quo harassment since some of the harasser’s behaviors can be subjective. Nonetheless, the right attorney can help you collect evidence and build your case.
Signs of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment behaviors vary greatly. Your potential harasser may exhibit one or a mixture of the acts associated with sexual harassment.
The list of potential behaviors that can constitute sexual harassment is endless, but the following are some of the most common. If you are experiencing or have experienced any of this conduct or any behavior aimed to make you feel objectified or uneasy, discuss your situation with an attorney as soon as possible.
Unwelcome Physical Touch
Physical touch is one of the most significant actions that can be sexual harassment.
Some of the acts of physically touching you that may make you uncomfortable include:
- Laying a hand on the small of your back
- Touching your leg, thigh, or buttocks
- Trying to hold your hand
- Grabbing you in a restrictive or aggressive manner
- Purposely rubbing up on you
- Stroking your hair, body, or clothing
It helps to decipher the potential intent behind the person’s actions. Some behaviors are easier than others to identify as sexual harassment, while others are a little more ambiguous. For instance, someone may try to kiss you on the cheek or hug you because it’s a cultural thing, not because they’re attempting to make you feel weird.
If someone continuously touches you in an unwelcome manner, you can address it kindly and directly. If they disregard your feelings and continue to touch you, it is more than likely sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment doesn’t just have to be physical, as it can be verbal as well.
Verbal sexual harassment can involve:
- Calling you nicknames or pet names
- Comments about your body or physical appearance
- Sexually explicit comments
- Making sexual innuendos
- Spreading rumors
- Pressuring you to engage in sexual acts
- Jokes of a sexual nature
- Asking about sexual preferences or history
- Sharing sexual stories or fantasies
With verbal sexual harassment, the harasser may make these comments directly to you or involve others and make comments about you. These comments can make you feel uneasy, humiliated, or threatened and make your workplace a very difficult place to be.
Nonverbal Sexual Harassment
Communication can be verbal and nonverbal, sexual harassment included. Sexual harassment doesn’t just have to involve physical touch or verbal communication. It can also include nonverbal acts to make you feel uncomfortable.
Some of the most common nonverbal sexual harassment behaviors include:
- Sexually suggestive signals
- Facial expressions (winking, licking their lips, blowing kisses)
- Sexual gestures with hand or body movements
- Whistling at you
- Looking you up and down
- Inappropriately touching themselves while looking at you
These actions alone can make someone feel tense or self-conscious, especially if they occur repeatedly.
Sexually Explicit Text Messages, Emails, Photos, or Videos
Written communication, whether in or out of the office, should remain strictly professional. When your harasser crosses the line and starts sending you non-work related messages, especially of a sexual nature, that is considered sexual harassment.
The situation escalates when they also include inappropriate photos and videos in your communications. Even simply showing you explicit photos and videos can be harassment.
If your harasser sends you written or visual communication, your first instinct may be to delete everything. However, if possible, retain these pieces of communication, as they can be helpful to your future case.
In some serious cases, your harasser may take it outside of the office and begin stalking you.
Stalking involves many behaviors that are unsolicited and unwanted, which can include:
- Following you
- Repeated communication, like phone calls, emails, texts, and even giving gifts that are not work-related
- Showing up to your home or other location you frequent
- Threatening you
- Any other form of undesired contact
In the absolute worst cases, victims of stalking have to get protective orders against their stalkers. Stalking can be serious, sometimes even leading to serious physical harm.
Pressure for Dates
Asking someone on a date isn’t necessarily a behavior associated with sexual harassment. However, that can quickly change if the individual does not stop asking you out or making you feel pressured to date them.
If a person has asked you out and you’ve clearly said no, they should leave the situation as is. If the same individual continues to ask or even gets mad when you refuse to go out with them, this is a form of harassment.
Requests for Sexual Favors
Requests for sexual favors are common to quid pro quo sexual harassment from a boss, but they can also happen with any other individual, which can cause a hostile work environment.
Asking for sexual favors is more often than not followed by either a promise to do something if you comply, or a threat against you if you fail to follow through.
What to Do if Someone Sexually Harasses You
When you’re the target of sexual harassment, it can bring up plenty of unwanted feelings. You might feel bad about yourself, depressed, angry, stressed, and frustrated. You may also feel as though there is no out, especially if you genuinely enjoy your job or can’t afford to leave your position.
It is important to know that you have options if you’re experiencing sexual harassment. You are not alone, and there is a way out, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
If you’re the victim of sexual harassment or think you might be, the following steps can help you in your pursuit of justice.
Collect Proof of the Harassment
Begin gathering evidence of sexual harassment as soon as possible. The more proof you have, the stronger your case against your harasser.
Some evidence that can strengthen your claim include:
- Communication with your harasser, including emails, texts, and voicemails
- Witness statements from others who have witnessed the harassment first-hand
- A detailed account of every harassment encounter
Additionally, when you formally report the harassment to your employer, you should retain copies of anything submitted as proof. This is especially helpful to prove you did, in fact, follow your company’s policy on reporting the harassment, but they did nothing to stop it.
Collect anything and everything you believe your attorney can use to build your case.
Confront the Harasser
Some individuals feel comfortable enough confronting their harassers head-on about their behavior. You don’t have to be aggressive or defensive but can instead try to approach them in a calm and kind manner to avoid any negative situations. You may also consider having another person in the room as a witness to your interaction.
If your harasser does nothing to stop their behavior, you can proceed to formally report their actions to your company.
If you don’t feel comfortable discussing the situation with your harasser for fear of how they might react, do not feel obligated.
Formally Report the Harassment at Work
Typically, companies have policies regarding sexual harassment and reporting these behaviors. Your employment lawyer can help you review your employee handbook for instructions.
In many situations, your lawyer can help you submit a written sexual harassment complaint to your Human Resources (HR) department. Your employer can then review your complaint and any evidence provided and conduct an investigation.
File a Lawsuit
If your employer does not take appropriate action, you should consult a sexual harassment attorney about your options, including filing a lawsuit. Before you file a lawsuit, you need to file a complaint with the CRD, formerly the DFEH, and obtain a Right to Sue. Your attorney can do this for you.
Legal Guidance for Sexual Harassment at Work – Do You Need an Attorney?
While you are not legally required to have an attorney help you with your sexual harassment claim, it is often the wisest choice.
Sexual harassment cases can be challenging to navigate, but an employment lawyer has the right knowledge and skills to help you from beginning to end. Not only can an attorney give you peace of mind, but they can also help you reach the most favorable outcome for your case.
Therefore, if you believe you’re the victim of sexual harassment, do not hesitate to seek assistance from a qualified San Diego sexual harassment lawyer. You are already dealing with a stressful situation and serious concerns about your future. Allow an attorney to protect your legal rights.