What to Do if You Experienced Sexual Harassment at Work?

Sexual Harassment At Work

You should enjoy a safe workplace, free from harassment. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is extremely common and can hurt your work performance and mental and physical health.

If this happens to you, you need to understand your rights and responsibilities. If anyone sexual harasses you in the workplace, do not hesitate to speak with a sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment refers to inappropriate and unsolicited sexual behaviors. This type of behavior can happen anywhere but often tends to happen in the workplace.

One of the most common misconceptions regarding sexual harassment is that it only happens to certain people. This is just one of the reasons the signs of sexual harassment often go unnoticed.

In reality, sexual harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, and race. Both men and women can be the perpetrators, making their victims feel awkward, uneasy, and sometimes unsafe.

Recognizing the Signs of Sexual Harassment

Often, individuals are unaware of the behaviors that entail sexual harassment. It’s critical to look for these specific signs, as it can happen to you or someone you know.

Sexual harassment can take many forms and be verbal, non-verbal, and physical.

Verbally, sexual harassment can look like:

  • Inappropriate jokes
  • Sexual comments, especially those concerning your appearance
  • Sharing sexual encounters and fantasies
  • Asking personal and inappropriate questions
  • Excessive flirting

Non-verbal sexual harassment often includes:

  • Winking and blowing kisses
  • Inappropriate gestures and body movements
  • Cat-calling
  • Looking at you up and down
  • Following or stalking

While harassers often start with verbal and non-verbal harassment, it’s common for them to eventually transition to physical contact.

This can include:

  • Unwelcome hugs and kisses
  • Giving a massage around the neck and back
  • Rubbing against you
  • Finding any excuse to touch you, like putting hands on the small of your back to move past you
  • Touching you in inappropriate areas

When you experience sexual harassment, you’ll likely feel particularly uncomfortable and tense. Most times, harassers know what they’re doing is wrong and aim to make you feel some type of negative way.

The Two Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace is particularly common. There are two main categories of sexual harassment at work, depending on the circumstances: hostile work environment and quid pro quo.

Experiencing a hostile work environment typically means your harasser engages in repeated sexual harassment, enough to create a negative work environment. Under California law, a hostile work environment involves inappropriate behavior in the workplace that is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment for the victim.

When you’re facing a hostile work environment, the sexual harassment can be enough to severely interfere with your work and ability to earn a living. It can also have a significant impact on your mental and physical health.

The other common kind of workplace sexual harassment is quid pro quo. In Latin, quid pro quo stands for “something for something.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment means a person at work, typically one in a position of power, has offered a work benefit in exchange for a sexual favor.

In a quid pro quo situation, the harasser regularly offers any of the following in exchange for something sexual:

  • A job
  • A promotion
  • A raise
  • A transfer to another desirable location
  • Protection from termination or layoff
  • Better work hours

Often, when a victim denies the harasser’s request, they may threaten the victim with a demotion, fewer work hours, a reduction in pay, or even termination.

If you’ve fallen victim to either a hostile work environment or quid pro quo sexual harassment, it’s important to take action. Taking action can not only help your situation, but it can also stop the harasser and protect others from experiencing the same.

What to Do if You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work

Facing sexual harassment can be one of the most stressful and overwhelming experiences of a person’s life. You may be unsure of what to do, where to turn, or who to talk to for direction.

When someone sexually harasses you, protect your rights and future case. These steps can help you do just that.

Get to Know Your Rights Under California and Federal Law

Under both California law and federal law, you have rights, especially in the workplace. Among these rights, you have the right to work in an environment free of harassment. Should your employer fail to take action and prevent harassment within your workplace, you can hold them liable.

You may have the opportunity to take action against your employer and/or the harasser, which can include coworkers and supervisors. Additionally, under certain circumstances, you might hold your employer liable for sexual harassment by customers and clients of the business.

If you’re unsure of what your legal rights may be, an employment attorney can provide all of the information you may need to feel better about moving forward.

Understand Your Employer’s Policy on Sexual Harassment

Most places of employment have certain established policies, including a policy regarding harassment in the workplace. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with how your employer handles sexual harassment.

California law requires employers to create a policy addressing sexual harassment at work and make their employees aware of it.

Within the sexual harassment policy, employers must clearly outline the appropriate procedure employees must follow should they experience harassment within the workplace.

Document Your Experiences of Sexual Harassment at Work

As soon as you begin experiencing sexual harassment, you should start documenting your experiences and gathering pertinent evidence.

Keeping a detailed account of every inappropriate encounter with your harasser can significantly help you prove the harassment is occurring.

Document as much information as possible, including:

  • What exactly happened/what was said
  • Who was involved
  • Where the incident took place
  • The date and time of the incident
  • Whether anyone witnessed the incident, and if so, who

Writing things down can help for several reasons, but primarily because, over time, memories become hazy or fade altogether. Your experiences are much more believable when you can provide exact details.

Also, be sure to keep any concrete evidence of harassment, including text messages, emails, voicemails, or hand-written notes. While it may seem tempting to throw these things away to help you ignore or forget the harassment, these pieces of evidence can substantially help strengthen your case.

Should I Confront My Harasser?

You need not confront your harasser to proceed with your sexual harassment complaint. However, if you feel comfortable enough doing so, a lawyer can talk to you about how to discuss the situation with the individual to get them to stop on their own.

Sometimes, a sit-down conversation with the harasser will stop the harassment.

Not everyone understands the impact of their words and actions. Your harasser may not realize how their behavior affects you. Helping them understand your perspective might open their eyes and cause the harassment to stop altogether.

Additionally, having a conversation with your harasser can make them aware of your intentions to proceed with a formal complaint against them. This might help them rethink their behavior, as they can fear the repercussions of their actions.

Confronting a harasser might be a viable option for you. However, if you truly fear for your safety, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. You can skip this step altogether and proceed with your formal complaint.

Report the Sexual Harassment to Your Employer

Whether the conversation with your harasser doesn’t yield favorable results or you choose to forgo a confrontation, you can proceed with filing a complaint with your employer.

Every company has different procedures for reporting incidents, like harassment, at work. If you’re unsure of your employer’s policies, consult with your employee handbook or ask someone in Human Resources.

Typically, you’ll make a formal, written complaint detailing the sexual harassment. You can include specific information and copies of your evidence.

Once you’ve made your complaint, this allows your employer to investigate your allegations and take corrective action against the harasser.

However, your employer may not take action to fix the issue. This is especially true when the harasser holds a position of power. Therefore, if your employer does nothing to protect you and stop the harassment, you can hold your employer liable.

File a Formal Complaint With a Governmental Agency

If your employer fails to take any action or you’re dissatisfied with how they handled your situation, you can file a complaint with a governmental agency. The two agencies in charge of sexual harassment complaints are the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

You do not have to file a complaint with both agencies, as your complaint is cross-filed between the two. Once you’ve filed your complaint, the agency can conduct its investigation. Depending on the results of their investigation, they may take action against your employer.

If the agency does not help you settle the issue with your employer, you may have the opportunity to file a lawsuit against your employer to hold them liable.

You may resolve your issues without filing a lawsuit. However, filing a lawsuit might be the best option if you cannot resolve your problem through CRD or EEOC.

To file a lawsuit for a sexual harassment case, the governmental agency must give you a right-to-sue notice, giving you the right to file your lawsuit in court.

A sexual harassment lawsuit can be overwhelming to handle on your own. Therefore, it’s highly advisable to have a knowledgeable sexual harassment attorney on your side to provide high-quality legal representation throughout the process.

When to Consult a Sexual Harassment Attorney

You can feel free to consult with a sexual harassment attorney at any point. Still, the sooner you meet with a lawyer and discuss your situation, the better.

An experienced attorney can listen to your problems to provide the best possible legal advice. They can help you understand your rights and responsibilities and guide you from beginning to end. A lawyer can also represent your best interests and fight for justice on your behalf.

Experiencing sexual harassment can feel isolating and stressful. Fortunately, you don’t have to go at it alone. A sexual harassment attorney can provide the kindness, patience, and compassion you need during a trying time.

Time Is Limited – Do Not Wait to Take Action

If you’re interested in taking action against your harasser or employer, it’s crucial to note that time is limited to do so. Failing to take action within the time allotted can result in your inability to pursue justice and compensation for your case.

The sooner you file your complaint with your employer, the better. It may take some time for them to investigate and make their decision regarding your situation and any potential action they’ll take.

When filing a complaint with the CRD, you have 180 to 300 days from the date of the latest incident of sexual harassment. On the other hand, you have one year to file a complaint with the EEOC.

If you receive a right-to-sue notice, CRD gives you three years to file your lawsuit, while EEOC gives you only 90 days to sue.

Keeping track of dates can be tedious and confusing. Fortunately, your sexual harassment lawyer can handle your claim timely.

Contact a Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today

If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, you’re not alone in your struggles. A sexual harassment attorney can provide the lending hand you need to proceed with a claim and pursue the justice you deserve. Never wait to begin standing up for your rights as an employee. Reach out to a San Diego employment lawyer.



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