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Am I Being Sexually Harassed At Work?

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Feb 15, 2021 | 0 Comments

Sexual harassment occurs in places where it is tolerated. An environment where such behaviors are allowed to continue unchecked is ripe for abuse, harassment and discrimination. And it doesn't have to happy just in the office.  Sexual harassment outside of the office at work sponsored functions can happen too.

Oftentimes, the individual who has faced sexual harassment may not even be certain that he or she is being harassed in the workplace because the employee may have been putting up with such behaviors for a long period of time.  

So, how do you know that you are being sexually harassed at work? Here are a few indicators.

Key Points - Table of Contents

Am I being Sexually Harassed at Work

What is Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment is unlawful both under California and federal law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment under federal law while California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it unlawful at the state level.

Both these laws consider sexual harassment as a form of employment discriminations. There are a number of actions that might count as sexual harassment in the workplace including:

  • Jokes, slurs, epithets or comments
  • Sexual propositioning
  • Offering benefits or perks in the workplace in exchange for sexual favors
  • Handing out sexually suggestive photographs
  • Inappropriate or unwanted touching/physical contact
  • Discussing sexual acts or asking about someone's sex life
  • Threatening to fire or demote you if you do not comply with a sexual request
  • Sexually suggestive or obscene messages or graphic comments
  • Harassing via email, text or other types of messaging

Some of the actions mentioned above would not be considered workplace sexual harassment if they are welcome by the other party. An example is two coworkers willingly going out on a date. California's sexual harassment laws apply to all state, local and private employers irrespective of the size of their workforce. On the other hand, Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

"Unwelcome behavior" is the critical phrase in sexual harassment law. While a victim may consent or agree to certain conduct and actively participate in it even though it is offensive and objectionable, sexual conduct is considered "unwelcome" whenever the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome.

If you feel like you are being sexually harassed at work, below are a few red flags to look for.

Red Flag #1: Sexual Behavior At Work Is Making You Feel Uncomfortable

Such behavior could range from sexual comments or requests you find unwanted or offensive and inappropriate touching.

There are many examples of such actions. You may feel uncomfortable when someone corners you in a tight space, asks you about your love life or sexual experiences, subjects you to hearing about their sexual experiences, keeps asking you to go out on a date with them or shows you pornographic materials.

In such situations, it is important that you trust your instincts. If it feels uncomfortable and inappropriate to you, it is highly likely that you are being sexually harassed.

If someone is touching you in a way that is uncomfortable or inappropriate, it is important that you speak up right away. Don't be a victim of sexual harassment. Unwanted physical contact is sexual harassment and is unacceptable. You are not obligated to touch, hug or kiss someone if you feel uncomfortable. If someone tries to do so, just say "no." If the physical harassment continues report the individual to your human resources department.

Red Flag #2: Inability To Stop The Behavior

This is absolutely unacceptable. Do not feel pressured to go out with someone just because they keep persisting. Contact an employment lawyer right away if your employer is unresponsive. An experienced sexual harassment attorney can guide you though the legal claims process and help you better understand your rights as a victim.

If you have tried a number of ways to discourage such behavior or have even candidly stated that you want it to stop, but it continues, then it is a clear indicator that you are being sexually harassed.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that simple teasing, off-hand comments or isolated incidents, which are not serious or criminal, may not qualify as sexual harassment.

However, when these incidents become frequent or severe and the behavior creates a hostile work environment, it is unlawful.

Red Flag #3: You Fear Retaliation

You may not have enough information or the appropriate channels to report sexual harassment in the workplace. You may also feel embarrassed or fear that your employer may not believe that you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment. In addition, if you've seen colleagues get put down or suffer negative repercussions as a result of speaking up, that may be another red flag.

You may fear retaliation and that is a clear sign not only that the harassment is serious, but also that you are in a toxic, unhealthy and hostile work environment.

Red Flag #4: Your Gender Is Holding You Back

Sexual harassment is not only harassment of a sexual nature, but also discrimination based on gender.

For example, if you are being demoted, passed over for opportunities or promotions because of your gender, such behavior could also be considered sexual harassment.

If you believe you are experiencing sexual harassment, it is important that you contact an experienced workplace sexual harassment lawyer who can provide you with more information about pursuing your legal rights. Call Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers at (818) 990-8300 to find out how we can help you.

Red Flag #5: People Are Sharing Sexual Jokes Or Stories Around You

Making sexually explicit jokes or sharing sexual stories around you all amount to sexual harassment. Speak up telling the person that you are not comfortable and that such behavior is inappropriate.

Red Flag #6: You Are Being Stalked or Harassed Online

Here are some of the behaviors that cross the line when it comes to online activity

  • Tracking and commenting on your online activity
  • Sending frequent messages even if you do not reply
  • Attempts to hack your accounts or devices to get information about you
  • Showing up to places that you frequent, without invitation
  • Other activity that makes you feel threatened or unsafe

Red Flat #7: Someone Is Asking For Sexual Favors In Return For Job Benefits

Being asked for sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities or promotions is unlawful. It is important that you document any such offers or requests and report them to your supervisor. Contact an employment lawyer immediately for help.

What Should You Do If You Are Being Sexually Harassed at Work?

There are several steps you can take if you are being sexually harassed at work:

Be direct with your harasser. It is within your rights to tell the harasser to stop the offensive or harassing behavior. Do your best to make it very clear to this individual that their harassing behavior is offensive to you and unwelcome.

Report the harassment to a supervisor. Report the harassment you are experiencing to a manager or supervisor - someone with the authority to make decisions. If your employer has clear policies and procedures in place to report harassment, be sure to follow them. Register your complaint in writing. Get an acknowledgement from your supervisor or employer that they received your complaint. And keep a copy of your complaint and the acknowledgement of receipt for your records.

Reporting the harassment to a governmental agency. In California, you may file a complaint with Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) online, by mail, or over the phone. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal anti-discrimination laws. Their website has information on filing complaints. Complaints filed with DFEH or EEOC are automatically cross-filed with the other agency.

Contact an experienced lawyer. If your employer is not responding to your complaint, the next best step you can take is to seek the counsel of an experienced California sexual harassment lawyer who can help protect your rights and hold your employer accountable.

Types of Sexual Harassment

There are two types of sexual harassment and both involve unwelcome sexual conduct. Regardless of which type of sexual harassment you have been subjected to, you have legal options.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

This is when a workplace benefit is provided or promised in exchange for a sexual favor. This connection between the benefit or tangible employment action that is provided and the sexual favor could be express or implied. Some examples of such tangible benefits include getting hired, promoted, receiving a pay raise, getting a more favorable work schedule or receiving a favorable assignment.

Typically, supervisors have the authority to take such actions. So, quid pro quo sexual harassment almost always involves a supervisor and a subordinate. However, co-workers can also commit this type of sexual harassment. It is also important to remember that sexual harassment could be anything from kissing to inappropriate touching or other unwelcome sexual conduct. If you face adverse employment action because you rejected a supervisor's sexual harassment, that is strong evidence of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is said to exist when sexual harassment is so severe or so pervasive that it creates a workplace that is offensive, hostile or abusive. Some factors that determine if the harassment was pervasive include how frequently the conduct occurred; its severity; if it was physically threatening; and whether it interfered with the victim's work performance. There are a number of parties in the workplace who can create a hostile work environment including supervisors, coworkers, customers, clients and vendors. Isolated or minor incidents of a sexual nature do not constitute a hostile work environment.

What is Considered Harassing Conduct?

Some types of conduct are clearly and obviously sexual harassment such as sexual assault, unwanted kissing, touching of breasts or genitals, showing or sharing pornography, request of sexual favors and making sexually explicit comments. There is no question that these overt incidents still occur in workplaces. However, there are subtler forms of sexual harassment, which are still severe enough to create a hostile work environment for employees. Such behavior might include:

  • Compliments of your appearance that can make you uncomfortable.
  • Asking questions about your love life or sex life.
  • Circulating sexually suggestive photographs or videos in the workplace.
  • Making sexual jokes or sending sexually suggestive emails or text messages.
  • Repeated hugs or other types of unwanted or inappropriate touching.
  • Spreading rumors of a sexual nature about employees.

In order to qualify as sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment, the conduct must be offensive not only to the employee, but also to a reasonable person who is placed in the same circumstances.

Fear of Retaliation or Repercussions

If you feel uncomfortable about sexually harassing behavior in the workplace, but if you worry that speaking up will result in retaliation, this is a clear indication of harassment. The type of retaliation you fear may range from being excluded or disrespected in the workplace to worrying about being demoted or even terminated from your job. For example, if you spoke up against someone making a sexual joke and are criticized for not being able to take a joke or not having a sense of humor, you may feel like you complaints will go unheeded. This type of dismissive behavior is a clear indication that you are enduring sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

How to Prove Harassment in the Workplace

The most powerful way to prove harassment in the workplace is to show evidence that you endured unwanted sexual advances. This type of harassment can be proven with evidence such as emails, texts, direct messages and testimony from coworkers. In such cases, documenting every interaction – whether it is verbal or written -- is crucial.

If you have complained about the harassment to your supervisor and/or your company's human resources department and if they have been unresponsive, it is unlikely that the harassment will stop. In such a difficult scenario, be sure to keep a diary of what is occurring.

Include details such as dates, times and witnesses. Note down who was involved and exactly what happened. If any of the harassment was done via emails, text messages or voicemails, make sure you preserve them. Any such evidence must be saved in a location outside of your work. Keep them in your personal computer or at home so you have access and control over them at all times. If you are a victim of sexual assault, it is important that you report the incident to local law enforcement authorities right away so they can launch a criminal investigation.

It is possible to prove sexual harassment through evidence of a hostile work environment. Examples of such harassment include lewd comments or jokes, offensive graffiti or showing pornographic material in the workplace. If an employer knows about such pervasive behavior, but takes no action to stop it, they are creating a hostile work environment for employees.

Getting Help From An Experienced Sexual Harassment Attorney

If you or a loved one are victims of sexual harassment at work, you may have a claim for legal action. Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers have been helping victims just like you who have been harassed in the workplace.  Let us help you with your sexual harassment settlement.  To get started, simply fill out the contact form on this page to request a free one-on-one consultation.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

In practice since 1996, the firm's lawyer and co-founder, Eric B. Kingsley, has litigated complex cases and written numerous appeals in state and federal courts on behalf of the California law firm Kingsley & Kingsley, including More than 150 collective actions. Mr. Kingsley focuses his practice ...


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