Close this search box.

Sexual Harassment

 ​What Is Verbal Sexual Harassment?

Many types of sexual behavior can be the basis for a harassment case. This behavior can include verbal remarks and comments. In fact, some of the most extreme examples of sexual harassment that have led to harsh consequences were verbal in nature, even when no sexual favors were demanded or requested.

If you have been the victim of verbal sexual harassment, you should see an sexual harassment lawyer to learn about your legal rights and a possible lawsuit against your employer.

Verbal Harassment Can Fall Into Both Categories of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. Certainly, this includes actual physical contact. It also includes retaliating against a subordinate because they reject sexual advances. Many different things can be “of a sexual nature.” Words and other non-physical behavior can fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment.

There are two primary types of sexual harassment, and verbal sexual harassment can fall under each category:

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment literally means “this for that.” Here, sexual favors are requested or demanded in exchange for a particular job benefit. Quid pro quo sexual harassment cases can include verbal sexual advances and direct sexual remarks to an employee. These acts of harassment often include direct vulgar remarks made to the employee about things like their body or sexual suggestions.
  • A hostile work environment is when employees create an abusive work environment because of pervasive conduct. This conduct can include remarks that happened in the employee’s presence or objectifying women in the workplace because of their gender.

The Victim Must Have Personally Suffered From the Conduct

Verbal harassment is not something only in the eyes of the victim. It is possible that one can be overly sensitive, and a reasonable person would not consider the verbal conduct to be abusive.

When it comes to a hostile work environment, the victim must show that they suffered personally from the conduct, and that it disturbed their tranquility and ability to perform their job. Usually, this suffering will be repeated and pervasive, and it will occur on more than one occasion. An employee cannot seek financial compensation if they were in the presence of a dirty joke but it did not bother them.

Whether It Is Harassment Depends on the Facts and Circumstances

Whether something is sexual harassment depends on the facts and circumstances of the situation. Usually, courts are looking for a pattern of conduct, but one remark or occurrence can be enough to constitute sexual harassment if it is severe enough.

Everything depends on what a reasonable person might consider to be hostile or abusive and whether the employee suffered personally from the remarks.

For example, if one employee tells another, “You look nice today,” on one occasion, and the employee who received the remark suffers severe emotional distress, it may not be sexual harassment because distress will be an unusually sensitive and unusual reaction to have.

A Famous Example of Verbal Sexual Harassment on Wall Street

In the 1990s, the public learned of one notorious case of verbal sexual harassment that brought attention to this illegal pattern of conduct in the workplace. One branch of the Wall Street brokerage Smith Barney had an area they called the Boom Boom Room where male employees gathered to drink alcohol and make lewd remarks. This conduct occurred throughout the office, where male employees directly referred to female employees using vulgar terms.

Even with no overt sexual advances, the environment was a hostile one towards women. Smith Barney settled a lawsuit filed by 26 female plaintiffs for a total of $150 million. The liability from the case was supposed to change the way that many workplaces operated, but many things never changed.

Examples of Verbal Sexual Harassment

Here are some examples of things that can constitute verbal sexual harassment:

  • Jokes and innuendo of a sexual nature made to a co-worker or around them
  • Asking a co-worker out to date or have sex
  • Unwanted questions about an employee’s sex life
  • Comments about one’s sex life directly to or in the presence of another employee

One does not even have to make remarks about sex to verbally sexually harass someone. In the Boom Boom Room case, the women were called derogatory names that referred to their sex. For example, addressing women as a “b” can be verbal sexual harassment. Of course, the case discussed above also had numerous other derogatory and sexual remarks that made the situation far worse.

Verbal Sexual Harassment Does Not Require Intent or Actual Sexual Remarks

Verbal sexual harassment also does not have to be derogatory remarks aimed at a particular employee or group of employees. For example, excessive complimenting can be sexual harassment when it is unwelcome. Making remarks complimenting an employee’s body or clothing can be harassment, depending on the atmosphere it creates for the employee.

Verbal sexual harassment does not have to come from a supervisor to be illegal. Any employee can sexually harass another, even if they do not talk to them directly. Telling sexual jokes to an employee in one’s cubicle can be harassment when it happens where others can hear the joke. Sexual harassment can be every bit as much about the atmosphere in the office.

These remarks also do not need to be made with the intent to be sexual harassment. One can commit an illegal act without even knowing exactly what they are doing.

A co-worker may think they were trying to be nice to the other employee without knowing they were making their co-workers uncomfortable. They may have made a statement to someone else without knowing that there was another employee in the vicinity who can hear what they said. It is best to be careful and not make any remarks that can be construed as verbal sexual harassment.

A $168 Million Jury Award for Verbal Sexual Harassment

One of the largest sexual harassment lawsuit payouts of all time was for conduct that was predominantly verbal. Hospital staff had explicit conversations about their sex lives in her presence and made jokes laden with sexual innuendo. One of the surgeons greeted co-workers with inappropriate sexual comments and often detailed his frustrations about his own sex life in front of his colleagues. The nurse had made 18 written complaints about sexual harassment to human resources. Instead of taking action to stop the sexual harassment, the hospital retaliated against the nurse by firing her.

The nurse won her case at trial. At the conclusion of an 11-day trial, the jury awarded her a stunning $168 million in damages. Included in this total was $39 million for mental anguish. In addition, the jury slapped the hospital with $125 million in punitive damages for their egregious conduct.

Damages in Your Sexual Harassment Case

Although not every case may be worth that staggering amount of money, it gives you an idea of what may happen when your employment attorney can prove horrible employer conduct to a jury. In a sexual harassment case, a jury of 12 human beings with their own emotions and sensitivities decide the case. Thus, you do not have to be a continuous victim and live with the awful conduct you experienced at work.

In a sexual harassment case, you might seek:

  • Payment for the mental anguish that you experienced from the conduct
  • Lost income if your employer terminated you from your job or did not promote you or increase your pay because of retaliation
  • Any harm to your reputation as a result of the harassment
  • The costs to treat any physical or emotional issues that you experienced because of the harassment
  • Job-search costs if you need to look for a new job

The court may even award you attorney’s fees and costs if you win a lawsuit, meaning that you can keep your entire award.

Your Employer Has Every Reason to Worry

As you have seen, punitive damages are also possible for examples of egregious conduct. This fear is very real for employers. The prospect of punitive damages may make your employer more willing to settle the case before it ever comes close to the inside of a courtroom. This can make the process less stressful for you.

In addition, your employer may also be afraid of bad publicity. In the #MeToo era, companies have been subjected to withering criticism when examples of sexual harassment have gone public. It can be bad for the employer’s reputation and business. You may have some leverage when you are either trying to put a stop to bad behavior or seek compensation for the harassment that you have endured.

What you may have been experiencing at work may not just simply be off-color jokes and normal humor. Instead, it can be illegal. You have the right to take legal action when the behavior crosses the line.

You should not act alone. If you have been the victim of verbal sexual harassment, you need to contact an experienced employment attorney today. Your lawyer will work with you on your response and how to address the situation. It is difficult enough to endure sexual harassment. You do not have to go through it alone, feeling helpless and powerless.

Many people do not come forward when they are victims of sexual harassment. Whether they are afraid or they do not think that they can do anything about it, people may not know about their full legal rights. Speaking with an attorney can let you know that you have legal rights of sexual harassment victims and the potential for financial compensation. An attorney will explain the law to you and let you know how best to handle the harassment.

What to Do When You Have Been Verbally Sexually Harassed?

Here is what you should do after verbal sexual harassment or any other kind of illegal harassment on the job:

  • Try to document everything that you can about the conduct, including when it occurred and other details that can be helpful in proving your case
  • Keep a contemporary log of the offensive sexual remarks
  • Speak to your supervisor or human resources and raise your concerns about the conduct (making a written request whenever possible)

You generally should have evidence that you raised your concerns to management to let them know that you felt you were experiencing harassment, and they should take steps to end the illegal conduct. You are protected when you come forward because your employer can pay a severe price if they fire you to retaliate for making a complaint.

To be clear, there is no right way to address sexual harassment. Everything depends on the facts and circumstances of the situation. An employment attorney in San Diego can assist you with the best response in your own particular situation.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

​Is It Sexual Harassment if I See the Boss Sexually Harassing Someone Else?

Just because you are not the direct victim of sexual harassment does not mean you have not experienced harassment. What you see and hear on the job can impact you directly, even if the conduct itself is indirect. The legal definition of sexual harassment is broad enough to encompass instances of indirect sexual harassment.

Seeing someone else experiencing sexual harassment can affect you personally, and it can be grounds for your own sexual harassment lawsuit. First, you should consult with an experienced sexual harassment attorney to determine whether you have the ability and right to file a lawsuit. Much depends on how you personally have been affected and whether your reaction was that of a reasonable person.

The Types of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

There are two primary types of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a manager or someone else with power over you demands sexual favors in exchange for something else. The “something else” can be a promotion or simply keeping your job. Quid pro quo harassment can be a physical action or a verbal request.
  • A hostile work environment happens when there is harassment so severe and pervasive that it impacts your ability to do your job. The harassment can be remarks directed at you or things that generally happen in the workplace. A culture of vulgar jokes and “locker room talk” can be enough to create a hostile work environment.

Witnessing Harassment of Others Is Part of a Hostile Work Environment

Seeing sexual harassment of others can fall into the hostile work environment category. In fact, witnessing sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of hostile work environment claims. When you see that others are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, you might begin to wonder whether it can happen to you.

There is a certain amount of helplessness and distress that you may feel when you see someone else who is powerless and suffering mistreatment. When you witness what happens to others, it becomes part of your own environment.

Seeing Harassment Can Distress You and Make You Fear for Your Own Safety

This conduct is the textbook definition of a hostile work environment. You may be concerned for your own safety based on what you see happening to other people on the job. Your ability to perform your duties may suffer because of your fear. Your job performance depends in part on the corporate culture. If you know that sexual harassment is part and parcel of the job experience, you may feel distressed.

Examples of Indirect Sexual Harassment

If you feel uncomfortable about what you have witnessed to the point of being distressed, you may be a victim of indirect sexual harassment. Not only can the direct victim of the harassment file a lawsuit against the employer, but you might also take action as well.

Indirect sexual harassment can involve hearing or seeing certain comments. If you hear a co-worker being the victim of degrading remarks about their gender, it can offend you, too, because you heard them. The same thing goes for sexual remarks and innuendo. Even if the boss did not directly address the comment to you, they still made it within your earshot, and they may as well have aimed the harassment at you.

Other forms of indirect sexual harassment include:

  • Seeing or being copied on an offensive email
  • Seeing someone else make a sexually offensive gesture
  • Viewing an inappropriate poster in someone else’s workspace

Anything that contributes to a hostile work environment or toxic culture can potentially be sexual harassment. Not only is the employer liable for the harassment, but they can also be held responsible for doing nothing about it and allowing it to continue.

The employer cannot allow a hostile work environment to persist. If the employer knows about a hostile work environment and does nothing about it, they should compensate victims as a legal remedy for the violation of their employment rights.

Indirect Sexual Harassment Must Personally Affect You

To obtain financial compensation for sexual harassment, you must have personally suffered from it. The conduct that you have endured must have impeded your ability to do your job and created a hostile work environment for you personally.

If you see something and think to yourself, “It is a shame, and it is awful,” it may not be enough for you to be in a position to receive compensation. Only when you begin to experience your own personal consequences of the behavior will you suffer the damages that can lead to a settlement or an award.

Your Reaction Depends on the Reasonable Person Standard

In addition, whether you actually suffered harassment depends on what a reasonable person would have perceived and felt from a situation. 

While there is always a subjective component to a sexual harassment case, there is also an objective element to it. Not every derogatory remark or instance of harassment in your presence can be harassment. Everything depends on the specific situation.

You should be ready for your employer to raise the defense that you did not actually suffer any personal harm from witnessing the conduct or that you had an unreasonable or oversensitive reaction to it. Accordingly, you should maintain your own contemporaneous documentation that shows what happened and how the behavior impacted you.

Keep a log of what you have seen and heard, including sufficient details showing how and why you felt distressed. In addition, you should also seek mental health assistance. Not only will it help you deal with the consequences of the sexual harassment, but the treatment notes will also help document how you have personally suffered.

Reporting Indirect Sexual Harassment Can Present its Own Challenges for You

There is some question about how you should handle indirect sexual harassment. The victim of the direct sexual harassment may not want to come forward themselves. The question is whether you need to report the sexually harassing conduct to management or human resources.

That is always a delicate consideration in each case. You do not want to subject the victim of direct harassment to retaliation if they do not come forward themselves. Although you are feeling distressed and harassed, you are also thinking about what can happen to someone else. The feeling of confusion and powerlessness is part of what you may experience that causes your own injury.

There Is No One Right Answer

Generally, you should come forward when you have felt harassed in any way, although you should handle the situation delicately. There are additional considerations when the harassment is indirect because what you do can have an impact on your co-workers.

What you do will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer that works for every case. Much depends on the dynamics of your workplace and whether the direct victim has come forward. You should consult an employment attorney to help you determine the right course of action. The employment lawyer will advise you on whether you should speak to management or human resources and how you should handle the situation.

You Might Face Retaliation on Your Own Account

In some cases, you may have said something to your boss, telling them that their conduct was wrong. The boss may retaliate against you by taking an adverse employment action.

For example, your employer may outright fire you from your job or act in a manner that pressures you into leaving. Or, your employer may give you a negative performance evaluation that impacts your career and job security. If so, you can take legal action against your employer for retaliation. Even though your complaint did not pertain to you personally, you still came forward, and your employer retaliated.

How Much Can You Receive in a Sexual Harassment Case?

Sexual harassment settlements and jury awards can be considerable. Discussing average amounts of awards is not helpful because each case is different and stands on its own merits. Some cases have resulted in awards of millions or tens of millions of dollars. Other cases have settled for tens of thousands of dollars. Again, everything depends on the facts and circumstances of your own case. Your attorney can give you a better idea of your potential financial recovery.

In a sexual harassment lawsuit, you may seek compensation for:

  • The distress that you suffered from the wrongful conduct
  • Lost income if your employer fired you, denied you a promotion, or you missed time from work because of the harassment
  • The cost of any mental health of medical treatment that you received to treat the effects of the harassment
  • Embarrassment and humiliation
  • Damage to your reputation from the harassment

Depending on the scope of the sexual harassment, a jury can also decide to punish your employer. When you hear of extremely large sexual harassment verdicts, such as the $168 million a California hospital employee received a decade ago, much of the verdict consists of punitive damages.

The jury may try to send a message to your employer and punish them for what they did by awarding you extra money. Often, there is a pervasive culture of harassment that the employer either fosters or completely ignores.

You should contact an attorney today to discuss your potential sexual harassment claim. It does not cost you anything to get legal advice from an employment lawyer in San Diego about a possible harassment lawsuit. You will also not pay anything unless you win your case.

If you win a sexual harassment lawsuit, your employer will need to pay your legal costs and attorney’s fees for your case. In the meantime, you can get the feeling that you are righting a wrong and pursuing justice from your employer. You might prevent future employees from suffering sexual harassment by taking action.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

How to Report Sexual Harassment?

If you  have experienced sexual harassment at work, what should you do? How should you report the issue? What are your rights and options?

The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report potential sexual harassment – in theory. In practice, too many employees experience adverse effects after complaining of harassment.

Never risk additional devastating experiences at work because you reported sexual harassment to HR, and they did not respond appropriately. Instead, begin by speaking with an employment lawyer. The right sexual harassment lawyer can review your situation and help determine the best course of action for reporting the harassment and seeking legal relief.

Employer policies

Employers with five or more employees in California should have clear policies regarding sexual harassment. This includes prohibitions on harassing conduct and procedures for employees to report harassment to the company.

For larger employers, the procedures usually involve reporting harassment to your human resources representative. With small businesses, you might not have an HR department, and you may need to report the harassment to your supervisor, the owner of the company, or some other person, if these people are engaging in the harassment.

Your employer’s policy for reporting sexual harassment may be contained in your Employee Handbook, or other internal policies or procedures. 

Consult a sexual harassment lawyer

If you were sexually harassed at work, you should consult with a  sexual harassment lawyer who can explain your rights and options.

Consulting with a lawyer might seem daunting, but it is a crucial step toward obtaining justice and compensation for the harm you have suffered. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal process and provide you with a clear understanding of the law and your rights.

During the initial consultation, the lawyer will listen to your story and ask you questions about the harassment you have experienced. They will assess the strength of your case and provide you with an honest evaluation of your chances of success in pursuing legal action. They will also explain the different types of legal claims you can make.

If you decide to move forward with legal action, your lawyer will guide you through each step of the process, from filing a claim to attending court hearings and negotiating a settlement, or representing you at trial. They will also help you collect evidence and prepare for trial if the case does not settle.

Remember, sexual harassment is strictly against the law and violates your rights. You have the right to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. A sexual harassment lawyer can help you fight for your rights and obtain the justice and compensation you deserve.

Evaluating whether you experienced sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem that takes many forms. Many people are unsure whether their experience qualifies as unlawful sexual harassment.

If you believe you have experienced inappropriate sexual behavior at work, you want a lawyer to evaluate your sexual harassment claim.

Your attorney will consider whether:

  • The behavior was unwanted: Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. If the behavior was unwelcome, unwanted, or made you uncomfortable, it may constitute sexual harassment.
  • The behavior was severe or pervasive: To be sexual harassment, the behavior must be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. This means that the behavior must be frequent or severe enough to interfere with your ability to do your job.

If you believe you have experienced sexual harassment, you should contact an employment attorney to learn about your options.

What happens if you report sexual harassment to HR?

Reporting sexual harassment to HR can be a difficult and daunting task, and speaking with an attorney first is advisable. However, some people trust their HR departments enough to report the harassment immediately to an employer representative. What happens, then?

If you have already reported the conduct to your employer, it is never too late to speak with a lawyer as well.

If you complain of sexual harassment, the HR department may:

  • Hold an initial meeting: When you report sexual harassment to HR, you will typically need to schedule an initial meeting with an HR representative. During this meeting, you will need to provide details about the harassment you have experienced, including the names of the individuals involved and any relevant dates or incidents.
  • Investigate: After you report sexual harassment, the HR department should typically investigate the matter. This may involve interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents and emails, and gathering other evidence relating to the harassment. The investigation aims to determine whether the harassment occurred and, if so, to take appropriate action to address the situation.
  • Follow up: Once the investigation is complete, you might have a follow-up meeting with the HR representative. During this meeting, they can inform you of the findings of the investigation and any action they plan to take in response to the harassment.
  • Take disciplinary action: If the investigation finds that harassment occurred, the HR department may take disciplinary action against the perpetrator, including termination. The purpose of disciplinary action is to deter future instances of harassment and protect the employee from further harm.
  • Provide ongoing support: Reporting sexual harassment to HR can be a traumatic experience, and you should receive ongoing support during and after the process. HR departments may offer counseling services or refer you to outside resources for support.

Remember that human resources departments do not always handle cases of sexual harassment appropriately. If you feel that your HR department failed to take your report seriously or did not take steps to address the harassment, immediately seek legal advice from an experienced sexual harassment attorney.

If you have not already reported the matter to HR, reach out to an employment attorney first.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that can leave long-lasting negative effects on employees. It violates your human rights and creates a hostile work environment. You may experience feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. You can obtain justice and regain control over their lives with help from a sexual harassment lawyer.

Legal relief for sexual harassment survivors can come in different forms, depending on the nature and severity of the harassment. One of the most common forms of legal relief is a civil lawsuit. Employees can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and/or their employer, seeking damages for the harm caused by the harassment. Damages may include compensation for lost income, emotional distress, medical expenses, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.

To succeed in a civil lawsuit, the survivor must prove that they experienced sexual harassment severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. This can present many challenges. An experienced attorney can gather evidence, such as witness testimony, emails, text messages, and other documents, to support their case.

Seeking legal relief for sexual harassment can be a complex and time-consuming process. Employees who report sexual harassment may face unlawful retaliation from their employer or the perpetrator. However, by seeking legal relief, employees can hold their perpetrators accountable for their actions and send a message to others that no one should have to tolerate sexual harassment at work.

While the legal process can be challenging, an experienced employment attorney can help you regain control over your life and obtain the compensation and protection you deserve. 

To know that you have someone on your side, consult an employment lawyer in San Diego who handles sexual harassment claims. This is the best way to proceed with your case and protect your rights.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

Employees Who Have Been Sexually Harassed At Work Can Speak Out And Not Be Forced Into Arbitration

The Speak Out Act and the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, both written into law in 2022, give employees more workers’ rights when they have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed in the workplace. Both laws had bipartisan support and are the most significant legislative developments to come out of the #MeToo movement, paving the way for a more just workplace. 

Sexual harassment and assault remain pervasive in the workplace. One in three women has faced sexual harassment in the workplace during her career, and an estimated 87 to 94 percent of those who experience sexual harassment never file a formal complaint. Sexual harassment in the workplace forces many women to leave their occupations or industry or pass up opportunities for advancement. In order to combat sexual harassment and assault, it is essential that victims and survivors have the freedom to report their abuse and publicly disclose it, if they choose to.1  For more information, reach out to a sexual harassment lawyer.

How Can The Speak Out Act Protect Employees?

Employees Who Have Been Sexually Harassed At Work Can Speak Out And Not Be Forced Into Arbitration

The Speak Out Act makes non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and non-disparagement agreements unenforceable in sexual harassment and assault cases. This law applies only to agreements signed before the harassment or assault occurred. It also invalidates existing agreements in cases that have not yet been filed.

NDAs are often included as part of the new hire forms and employment contracts new employees are required to sign and often do not understand what they are signing. NDAs were originally created to protect proprietary information and intellectual property. However, employers have used NDAs to silence victims of workplace sexual harassment and keep misconduct from being exposed to coworkers and the public. 

Non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions in agreements between employers and current, former, and prospective employees, and independent contractors, can perpetuate illegal conduct by silencing those who are survivors of illegal sexual harassment and assault or illegal retaliation, or have knowledge of such conduct, while shielding perpetrators and enabling them to continue their abuse. Prohibiting nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses will empower survivors to come forward, hold perpetrators accountable for abuse, improve transparency around illegal conduct, enable the pursuit of justice, and make workplaces safer and more productive for everyone.1

How Does Ending Forced Arbitration Help Employees?

Ending forced arbitration allows employees who are victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault to seek justice in civil court when they had previously been bound to a closed, often-secretive legal proceeding called arbitration. Employers forced workers into arbitration to keep matters out of the public eye and keep companies free from public scrutiny and accountability. Now, employees can expose if they want to file a lawsuit and expose the company publicly or not. It can also provide more leverage in settlement agreements. 

For more information and frequently asked questions regarding sexual harassment:

What is Sexual Harassment?

What is Quid Pro Quo?

Harassment based on gender, gender identity, or gender stereotyping, not related to sexual interest

What is Inappropriate Touching At Work?



​Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work?

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:

  • Jobs
  • Promotions
  • 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. 

Verbal Comments

Sexual harassment doesn’t just have to be physical, as it can be verbal as well.

Verbal sexual harassment can involve:

  • Catcalling
  • 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:

  • Staring
  • 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

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.

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.

​The Legal Rights of Victims of Sexual Harassment​

Sexual harassment in the workplace happens more often than many people realize. It’s a real problem in many different industries. Unfortunately, many employees, victims, and witnesses are unaware of their rights regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. Everyone must know they have legal rights and protections under state and federal laws. As a result, employers who violate these laws can face extreme consequences.

If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you have the right to seek legal help. In fact, it’s usually in your best interest to reach out to an experienced employment attorney to learn more about those rights and how you should exercise them at this point in time. 

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law. Workplace sexual harassment occurs between people of the same or different gender.

It can also happen between, among others:

  • Coworkers
  • An employee and a client or customer
  • An employee and their supervisor
  • An employee and a delivery driver

Workplace sexual harassment can happen in a wide range of environments, including in the workplace, at work-related events outside the workplace, such as an employee luncheon, or during work travel.

Two categories of unlawful workplace sexual harassment exist:

  • Quid pro quo: Means “this for that” in Latin. This type involves behavior that an employee must endure as a condition of their employment. It’s a type of harassment that can include a supervisor pressuring or coercing an employee to engage in sexual acts in exchange for ongoing employment, a promotion or a raise, more favorable hours or shifts, time off, or even a positive review.
  • Hostile work environment: The other type of workplace sexual harassment occurs when the conduct is deliberate, recurring, severe, and/or pervasive, so much so that it impacts an employee’s ability to perform their job as they should. Examples of a hostile work environment include a colleague making sexually offensive jokes, comments, or insults or sharing offensive images within the workplace— either in person or electronically.

Examples of workplace conduct that can be types of sexual harassment include:

  • Inappropriate comments about another person’s body or appearance
  • Unwanted requests for dates or sexual favors
  • Using sexual orientation-based or gender-based slurs
  • Making fun of an individual or all people of a particular gender or sexual orientation
  • Offensive, vulgar, or explicit jokes about sex or sexual acts. Note: Even if they aren’t speaking to or about you specifically but another group of people or gender, it’s still considered sexual harassment.
  • Sending or sharing texts, other messages, or emails of a sexual nature
  • Gossiping about another person’s relationships or sex life
  • Unwelcome or inappropriate touching of any clothing, body part, face, or hair, up to and including hugging, kissing, or assault
  • Blocking someone’s movement

Everyone has rights within the workplace, especially those facing sexual harassment.

Victims of sexual harassment have the right to:

Work in a safe environment, free from discrimination.

Employers are required under federal and state laws to provide a safe working environment. The working environment can’t be “hostile” to you due to your sex or gender identity.

Stay informed regarding your company’s sexual harassment policies.

You have the right to know about the sexual harassment policy that applies at work, including how to report sexual harassment, in a way that you can understand.

For example, in California, by state law, employers must have a written harassment policy and ensure that every employee knows the policy exists and receives a copy. The policy must also be written in a language that their employees understand.

Talk about or speak out against workplace sexual harassment.

Whether it’s happening to you or another person at your workplace, you have the right to talk about sexual harassment or discrimination that’s occurring at work to whomever you want. This includes your coworkers and your supervisor.

You also have the right to inform your employer reasonably that you think a policy or practice perpetuates or cultivates harassment or if a manager is behaving in a harassing or discriminatory manner. It’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against or punish an employee for discussing harassment or discrimination with their coworkers.

Report the harassment to human resources or your supervisor.

You have the right to report sexual harassment or discrimination to your employer’s human resources department, your supervisor or manager, or another person at your company who has authority. It’s best to make the report in writing (via email or letter) and retain copies so that you have proof that you made a complaint if you need it later. Always report sexual harassment to your employer first if you think you might want to pursue legal action later. 

Protest or picket against sexual harassment or other types of discrimination.

You can also get together with one or more of your coworkers to express concerns regarding your wages, pay, or working environment. This is called engaging in concerted activity, and it has legal protections under the National Labor Relations Act.

Have your complaint taken seriously and an investigation opened into your harassment.

Under state and federal laws, your employer must take all sexual harassment complaints seriously and investigate them. Once employers are aware of the possibility of sexual harassment, the law requires them to take quick action to end it and adequately protect you or the person who is experiencing the harassment.

Ask your employer what happens and who will know if you file a sexual harassment complaint. Understandably, you might want your complaint to remain confidential.

However, you need to be aware that an investigation typically involves interviewing:

  • The accused harasser
  • The person making the harassment complaint
  • Other employees who might be potential witnesses to the harassment

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that your complaint will remain confidential. However, you have the right to find out what happens once you lodge a formal complaint and who else might find out the details of your complaint.

File a lawsuit against your employer.

In order to file a lawsuit against your employer in California, you might first have file charges with the California Civil Rights Department (“CRD,” formerly the DFEH), and obtain a Right to Sue. There are strict deadlines for the number of days you have after receiving the notice to file a lawsuit in civil court.

Do nothing.

It might seem ironic, but you also have the right to do nothing about the harassment you are experiencing. It’s an acceptable and personal choice not to take action about the sexual harassment or assault you experience. It’s entirely your decision if you come forward about your experiences or not. However, in doing so, you may be helping other people come forward with their own stories or protect other people who are also facing harassment or might in the future.

If you lose your job or experience other types of retaliation for doing any of the above, it’s illegal. You also have the right to take legal action against it.

Retaliation not only includes termination but also:

  • Demotions
  • Reducing your wages
  • Switching your shifts, hours, benefits, or duties
  • Being asked to take time off
  • Any other action that has a negative impact on you

What Can Employees Do to Protect Themselves?

Employees facing sexual harassment in the workplace should keep accurate records of incidents, including dates and times and other descriptive details, such as anyone who witnessed what happened. This information will be helpful for the state, federal agency, or an employment attorney should the employee decide to exercise their rights and seek action.

If you decide to pursue legal action, there are various types of “remedies” you can ask for in court. Every workplace sexual harassment case is different. However, here are some frequent examples of remedies you might receive if you’re successful in winning your lawsuit or reaching a settlement.

Compensation for lost income and other economic losses.

Suppose the sexual harassment you experienced resulted in a loss of work or income— for example, you were forced to take a leave of absence, lost work hours, were fired and didn’t have an income for some time, or lost your job and have not found another one that compensates you as much. In that case, you deserve compensation for those things.

You also have the right to pursue compensation for costs related to any medical or health treatment you required or will need going forward because of sexual harassment or any retaliation you experienced.

Compensation for physical pain or suffering and emotional distress.

This can include mental anguish, anxiety, stress, pain and suffering, loss of sleep, loss of enjoyment of life, and damage to your reputation resulting from sexual harassment.

Punitive damages.

If you file a lawsuit and prove that your employer acted with malice or showed reckless indifference to your employee rights, you might get the court to order your employer to pay you punitive damages. These damages aim to punish especially bad employers and send a warning message to other employers not to do what your employer did.

Why You Should Contact an Experienced Employment Lawyer

There are many reasons you may want to speak with an employment lawyer.

Consider seeking legal help if:

  • You believe you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment
  • You have questions about your rights at work
  • You think you experienced retaliation for exercising your rights at work
  • You report workplace sexual harassment, but nothing happens

Even if you just feel like something is off or not right, it never hurts to check in with an experienced employment lawyer. The sooner you do so, the sooner you can take legal steps to stop any wrongs against you.

Translate »