Over the last few decades, the words “sexual harassment” have become common in the workplace as human resources departments teach employees how to face this uncomfortable and challenging situation. Yet while the term has become widely recognized, many individuals are not aware of exactly what constitutes this illegal action. Let’s examine at what sexual harassment is, and what it looks like in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is a violation Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to private and public employers with fifteen or more employees. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that deals with complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. In California, that state agency is the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

According to the EEOC, it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.

The main component of sexual harassment is the offender’s behavior must be offensive and unwelcomed by the victim. Sexual harassment can happen to both women and men, and the victim and harasser can also be the same sex. Additionally, the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Types of Sexual Harassment

When you file a sexual harassment claim in court, your complaint will need to fall into one of the following two categories: Quid pro quo or hostile work environment.

In Latin, quid pro quo translates to “something for something.” Therefore, when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, this occurs when a manager or authority figure tells, or hints to, an employee they will give the individual something in exchange for a sexual demand. The “something” could be a raise, promotion, larger office, etc. Quid pro quo can also occur with a job applicant in an interview process.

Sexual harassment in a hostile work environment occurs when there are demeaning or sexual photographs, jokes, or threats. Additionally, the inappropriate behavior must be so pervasive that it creates an intimidating and offensive work environment and the employee being harassed feels they cannot do their job.

Who is Involved in Sexual Harassment?

It’s important to note that victims of sexual harassment can be both men and women. Additionally, the harasser can be either a man or a woman, and they may be of the same sex. The harasser may be a supervisor, a different department supervisor in the company, co-worker, an agent of your employer, or another person associated with the company who is not an employee.

The key component of sexual harassment is the harassing behavior must be unwanted. The victim does not necessarily need to be the individual being harassed. You could be a bystander or co-worker that is affected by the offensive behavior. You can also make a claim for sexual harassment even if you have not suffered economic damages or been fired.

Navigating sexual harassment within a company can be a difficult process. If you or someone at your workplace is experiencing sexual harassment, it’s important to take action. The first thing to do is inform the person that the behavior is unwelcome and demand that it stop. If it doesn’t, you will need to make the employer aware of it. You don’t have to go down this route alone. It’s always best to consult an experienced sexual harassment attorney to help you understand your rights. Call (619) 342-8000 for a free consultation today.

At Haeggquist & Eck, pursuing justice on behalf of our clients is the top priority — whether it’s fighting for unpaid overtime and fair pay, against discrimination and harassment, or battling defective products and services. If you live and work in California and are being subjected to sexual harassment at work, schedule a free consultation with one of the experienced sexual harassment attorneys at the law firm of Haeggquist & Eck.