What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

First, there is no exact legal definition of “sexual harassment.” It can come in many forms and every situation is different. If you experienced offensive sexual conduct in the workplace, then you should consult an attorney. For more information please contact the sexual harassment lawyers of Erlich Law Firm at (510) 390-9140.

Sexual harassment can come from your supervisor or co-worker, or a customer, contractor or vendor. The harassment may happen at the workplace, or outside of work. Some common situations include:

  • Pressure for sex, physical contact or romantic involvement
  • Repeatedly asking for dates, and not taking “no” for an answer
  • Excessive and inappropriate personal questions about your romantic or sexual life
  • Sexual jokes
  • Spreading sexual rumors, gossip or innuendo
  • Making inappropriate sexual comments at a coworker
  • Telling sexual stories
  • Whistling or cat calls
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Suggesting that your employment, raise or promotion is linked to sex
  • Threats to terminate your employment or deny opportunities if you report sexual harassment.
  • Any other form of behavior that you think is both sexual in nature, and unwelcome.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you should contact 911 immediately and report it to the police.

Do I have a case for sexual harassment?

Because every story is different, there is no black-and-white rule to determine what makes a strong case for sexual harassment. It is best to get the opinion of an experienced employment attorney. Some of the factors courts look at, in regard to sexual harassment include:

  • How severe was the harassment?
  • How frequently did the harassment occur?
  • Was the conduct unwelcome? Did the employee ask the harasser to stop, or refuse to participate in the sexual comments or behavior?
  • Did the employer know (or should it have known) about the harassment?
  • Did the employer take the necessary steps to stop the harassment from happening again?

Importantly there is no simple rule under the law for what is “severe” or “frequent.” A single event could be the basis of a sexual harassment case, if it is relatively serious like touching or “quid-pro-quo” harassment (see below). Other types of harassment such as rude comments can also be the basis of a legal claim if they happen often enough to create a “hostile work environment” — especially if the employer does not take action to stop it.

What is “Quid-pro-quo” sexual harassment

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin legal term meaning: “This, for that.” Here, the “Quid” is a job, raise, promotion or some other work opportunity, and the “Quo” is your sexual or romantic favors in return. If someone in a position of power offers you a “Quid pro quo” of job opportunity in exchange for romantic or sexual favors, it is an extremely serious form of sexual harassment.

What is a “Hostile work environment”?

In sexual harassment law, a “hostile work environment” means that the unwelcome sexual conduct (see examples above) is so severe or happens so often that it changes your workplace conditions and creates an abusive environment. Once again, there is really no black-and-white rule for how serious or how frequent the harassment must be in order to create a hostile work environment. Courts often apply the standard that if a “reasonable person” would think the harassment was hostile or abusive, then there is a hostile work environment. One purpose of this standard is to eliminate frivolous or unreasonable claims.

Can men be victims of sexual harassment? 

Although the vast majority of sexual harassment is experienced by women, the law recognizes that the victim of sexual harassment may be female or male, and their harasser may be of the same or opposite sex. The common factor is the offender’s sexual conduct is unwanted by the victim.

Contact an attorney

Contact an attorney today at Erlich Law Firm to protect your rights and find out your options to handle your sexual harassment case.

Other Sexual Harassment FAQs:


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