Sexual harassment remains a pervasive issue that impacts workers across industries. While laws prohibit sexual harassment, many employees still experience inappropriate, offensive, or hostile behavior in the workplace. Recognizing the signs of unlawful sexual harassment is critical to putting a stop to it.
In this blog, we will cover what constitutes harassment, how to recognize the signs, some examples of sexual harassment, and how to combat it.
What Exactly Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating or hostile work environment. This could include unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, offensive comments and jokes, vulgar gestures, displaying graphic materials, and more.
For the harassment to be unlawful, it must be severe or pervasive enough to negatively impact your work performance. Isolated minor incidents typically don’t qualify as sexual harassment under the law. However, any harassing behavior should be addressed promptly before it escalates.
Sexual Harassment Takes Many Forms
Harassment encompasses a wide spectrum of behaviors. It can be verbal, nonverbal, or physical. Examples include:
- Sexual comments, jokes, or innuendos
- Spreading sexual rumors about someone
- Unwelcome sexual advances or repeated romantic requests
- Displaying sexual images or videos in the workplace
- Making sexually suggestive facial expressions or gestures
- Intentionally brushing up against someone
- Sexual assault
Recognizing Verbal Sexual Harassment
One of the most common forms of sexual harassment is verbal. This includes sexual comments, insinuations, suggestions, jokes, questions, and requests for sexual favors. Even if the remarks seem harmless, they contribute to a hostile environment, making verbal harassment against the law.
Verbal sexual harassment also encompasses:
- Graphic discussions of sexual exploits
- Using demeaning or sexist terms
- Turning work discussions to sexual topics
- Persistent, unwanted flirting
While subtle at first, this type of misconduct often grows worse over time. Targets may try to avoid the harasser or laugh off comments, but offensive speech should never be tolerated.
Spotting Physical Sexual Harassment
Inappropriate physical contact and conduct also fall under the category of sexual harassment. Examples include:
- Unwelcome touching, groping, kissing, hugging
- Purposefully blocking passageways
- Sexually suggestive gestures and looks
- Showing graphic photos, drawings, or materials
At its most extreme, physical sexual harassment includes sexual assault, violence, coercion, and rape. Seeking immediate help from the authorities is critical in these traumatic cases.
Pinpointing Visual Sexual Harassment
Thanks to technology, sexual harassment can also occur visually online or through electronic communications. With the rise of remote work, harassers have found new avenues to send inappropriate content or messages. Visual sexual harassment may include:
- Offensive emails, texts, instant messages, or posts
- Pornographic drawings, cartoons, posters, or photos
- Sharing graphic or vulgar videos
- Leaving obscene graffiti on work property
Understanding Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone in a position of power demands sexual favors in exchange for a workplace benefit. Victims may feel pressure to comply with inappropriate requests to avoid demotion or termination.
Common examples include:
- A supervisor promising a raise or promotion for going on a date
- A manager threatening firing if sexual acts aren’t performed
- A coworker demanding sexual images to approve time off
No one should have to choose between advancing their career and enduring sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment is unethical and against the law.
Examples of Real Life Sexual Harassment in California
- Brock Allen Turner Case (2015): This was a criminal case in which Brock Allen Turner, a Stanford University student, was convicted by a jury trial of three counts of felony sexual assault.
- Los Serranos Golf Club Case (2022): Four women, Jalyn Ito, Reagan Coburn, Daniela Serna, and Ariana Tan, filed lawsuits against the Los Serranos Golf Club and JC Resorts, alleging sexual harassment. The women reported feeling distressed and ignored by their managers.
- Ani Chopourian vs. Mercy General Hospital (2012): Ani Chopourian was awarded $168 million by a federal jury in a hospital harassment lawsuit, the largest such settlement ever. Chopourian filed about 18 written complaints covering patient safety to sexual harassment over a two-year period before she was terminated.
- Goodson v. County of Plumas (2023): This case involved allegations of employment, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination. The court found that the County’s action was retaliatory.
- Justice Department Lawsuit Against California Property Manager and Owners (2023): The Justice Department secured an agreement in a sexual harassment lawsuit against a California property manager and owners. The manager and owners allegedly entered the homes of female tenants without their permission and subjected them to sexual harassment.
What To Do If You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work
If you face sexual harassment at work, take action to make it stop:
- Report it. Notify your supervisor, HR department, or management immediately. Provide details and document all incidents.
- Get evidence. Keep copies of inappropriate emails, texts, photos. Note witnesses and dates/times of harassment.
- Know your rights. Review company policies and anti-harassment laws for your state. Consult with attorneys regarding legal options.
- Don’t stay silent. Speaking up helps prevent further harassment and shows you oppose the behavior.
No one should have to endure an abusive or hostile work environment. But staying silent enables harassment to continue.
Protecting Your Rights Against Sexual Harassment
If you’re experiencing any harassing or offensive behavior at work, know that you have rights. Documenting incidents and reporting sexual harassment is essential to stopping it. Although you may feel embarrassed or worried about retaliation, ignoring the issue allows it to continue.
No one deserves to endure an unlawful, hostile work environment. With the right help and resources, you can take a stand against sexual harassment. Don’t stay silent – speak up to protect your rights.
The employment lawyers at Malk Law Firm have extensive experience representing targets of sexual harassment and misconduct. If you need legal guidance on reporting sexual harassment or filing a claim, reach out to their office today.