Workplace sexual harassment has been in the news lately. Many of the women coming forward in the #MeToo movement have been reporting abuse and harassment at the hands of their bosses.
If you have suffered sexual harassment, you are not alone.
However, sexual harassment is a complex topic because it is not illegal to socialize with people at work or even to ask our a co-worker on a date. For this reason, the precise contours of sexual harassment can sometimes be hard to identify.
Below, we discuss some of the most common forms of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Quid Pro Quo
This is the most obvious form of sexual harassment, and basically consists of your boss offers something in exchange for sexual favors. For example, a boss might threaten to fire you unless you sleep with him or promise a promotion or raise in exchange for sex.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment should be easy to spot. Even if you agree to perform the favor you can still have a valid claim. However, if a boss asks you out but does not make anything contingent on saying yes—no promise of a promotion, no better job assignments—then it might not be sexual harassment.
Hostile Work Environment
This form of sexual harassment is harder to identify. However, both federal and state law protect against work environments that become oppressive or intolerable because of harassing conduct based on sex.
Harassment conduct can take many forms, such as:
- Offensive pictures
- Epithets or slurs
- Name calling
- Sexual jokes
- Sexual conversations
- Gross generalizations
- Sexual gestures
- Sexual touching
The amount of harassing conduct necessary to create a hostile workplace will depend on the circumstances. For example, one instance of sexual touching could be enough. If a coworker gropes you, then the workplace could be hostile based on that fact alone.
However, a stray sexual joke or gesture is probably not enough to qualify. Instead, you will need a pattern that is so severe or pervasive that the workplace is truly hostile. Of the two types of sexual harassment at work, hostile workplace claims are the hardest to identify, so meet with an attorney right away.
Questions about Sexual Harassment
Many of our clients have questions about sexual harassment, and we answer them below:
- Does the victim have to be a woman? No, the victim can be either male or female, and the perpetrator can be either male or female. Sexual harassment can be opposite-sex or same sex.
- Is it sexual harassment if only my coworkers, and not supervisors or managers, are making offensive statements? Yes. A hostile workplace can be created by either a boss or coworkers, or both. It can also be created by non-employees like customers or vendors.
- Have I suffered sexual harassment if I engaged in the consensual activity? By definition, sexual harassment must be “unwelcome.” If you engaged in conduct willingly, then it is doubtful you are a victim of sexual harassment.
- I’m offended by the sexual banter at work; have I suffered sexual harassment? Maybe. There is no requirement that you be the focus of harassment. Instead, if you find the work environment hostile, then you might have a claim for sexual harassment.
- Does it matter if I make sexual jokes sometimes, too? Possibly. If you’ve done that, it casts doubt on whether you personally find such conduct offensive or unwelcome. But it can also depend on who you joke with. The law recognizes that it can okay with you to joke with one person, but not okay for another person to try to joke with you.
- My coworkers make very negative comments about women, but the comments aren’t sexual in nature. Is this harassment? It can be. Gross generalizations about men or women, sexual stereotypes, and negative comments can create a hostile work environment. Comments like “Women are terrible managers” could be “gender” harassment, even if not sexual harassment.
Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment
If you have suffered harassment, then you might have a valid claim against your employer. A lot will depend on who harassed you and other circumstances.
For example, if a supervisor committed harassment, then an employer is automatically liable under California law.
Under federal law, liability may depend on whether the harassment resulted in an adverse employment decision, such as a firing, or whether the employer reasonably tried to correct or prevent the supervisor’s harassment, or whether the employee did or did not try to take advantage of the corrective opportunities the employer may have made available.
Employers can also be responsible if a non-supervisor committed harassment. However, your employer must know (or should have known) of the harassment and must have failed to promptly correct it.
Speak to a California Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today
Sexual harassment is a serious wrong. But it’s also legally complicated. But if you think you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment please know you do have options and there are people who will listen. At the Workplace Rights Law Group, we have experience holding employers accountable for workplace harassment of all kinds and types.
We will do everything possible to make sure you have a fair resolution to your case and receive fair compensation for your injuries.
To find out more about the process of complaining about discrimination, please contact us today. We offer a free consultation to all potential clients, which you can schedule by calling 818-925-1572.