Was that Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Everyone should be well-aware that sexual harassment in the workplace is strictly prohibited by both federal and California law. However, many people are not clear about what constitutes sexual harassment, and both harassers and victims should understand whether an incident was unlawful or not.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

There are different types of sexual harassment defined under the law, one of which is called “quid pro quo” harassment. This is often an easier type of harassment to identify, as it is generally straightforward and can involve egregious conduct on the part of a harasser.

Quid pro quo harassment involves a victim and another person who has authority or influence over that victim’s job conditions. The person with authority makes a sexual advance or requests sexual favors and makes the victim’s compliance a condition of their employment.

This condition could involve an adverse employment action or an employment benefit, and some examples of quid pro quo harassment might include:

  • A manager makes an advance on a subordinate employee and threatens to fire them if they do not comply
  • A manager makes a sexual advance on a subordinate and offers a promotion that they might not otherwise receive in return for compliance

Sexual favors or conduct should never be a part of employment decisions, and an employee should never be put in the position to choose between their job and sexual compliance.

It is important for every employee to recognize when quid pro quo harassment occurs. If it does, an employer can be automatically liable for the sexual harassment and harm caused to the employee. If you think your boss engaged in quid pro quo harassment, you should contact a California sexual harassment attorney immediately.

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

This is another and often less clear form of sexual harassment in the workplace. This type of harassment does not have to involve a superior, nor does it have to involve sexual advances or putting an employee’s job on the line. Instead, this includes conduct by anyone in the workplace that creates a hostile work environment for one or more other employees.

Conduct that might contribute to a hostile work environment from sexual harassment includes:

  • Sexual jokes, stories, or comments
  • Leering or commenting on someone’s body in a sexual manner
  • Displaying sexual pictures or cartoons
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Unwanted touching
  • Sexual emails or messages
  • Other sex-related communications

The “hostile work environment” standard is based on what a reasonable person would believe is a hostile place to have to work due to the sexual conduct. One comment or email is generally not enough to create a hostile situation unless that one act is particularly offensive. The conduct must either be:

  • Persistent enough that a reasonable person would not want to work in that environment
  • Offensive enough that a reasonable person would not want to work in that environment

If you believe that you are experiencing a hostile work environment, you should report the situation to your employer. If your employer fails to take the necessary steps to stop the harassment, your employer should be liable for the harm you suffered. You should speak with a California sexual harassment attorney about your rights.

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