How To Recognize Subtle Sexual Harassment In Workplace

How To Recognize Subtle Sexual Harassment In Workplace

Sexual harassment at work is illegal both in California and in the United States. If you think you have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, you do not have to tolerate it. Instead, contact our sexual harassment attorney in Inland Empire at Law Office of Joseph Richards, P.C. today.

What Are California’s Laws On Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment at work is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). State and federal law state that sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, physical conduct of a sexual nature, and actions that lead to an offensive or hostile work environment according to your sex.

Furthermore, California law states that offensive conduct does not have to be because of sexual desire but could be based on one’s perceived sex or gender identity. It also can be based on childbirth, pregnancy, and various medical conditions.

Subtle Sexual Harassment Examples

Some sexual harassment in the workplace is easy to identify, but some are not. For example, if you see the following subtle signs in your workplace interactions, you could be a sexual harassment victim:

Physical Touching That Is Not Sexual

Not every undesired physical contact must be sexual to be considered sexual harassment. Any physical contact at work that you do not want may be harassment. Some examples of inappropriate touching at work are:

  • Patting you on the back
  • Rubbing your shoulder
  • Brushing against you
  • Physically blocking you
  • Leaning too close

If some of these behaviors occur occasionally, it could be innocent. But repetitions of such behaviors could signal sexual harassment.

Comments About Appearance

There is a line between complimenting a co-worker’s appearance and sexual harassment. A compliment has well-meaning intentions and is provided to make you feel good. But sexual harassment can sound on the surface like a compliment, but it has sexual undertones.

For instance, saying someone looks sharp today is an acceptable compliment, but saying that a woman at work ‘looks hot in that dress’ is sexual harassment. But not every example is that clear-cut. So if you receive questionable comments about your appearance from someone, note it.

Unwanted Flirting

If someone finds another person at work, it can be ok to ask them out. However, if you turn down the date, the other party should stay professional and stop that line of inquiry. If the person asks you out and you continue to decline, it can become subtle sexual harassment. Also, someone regularly flirting with you without your consent is sexual harassment at work.

Sexual Jokes

It may be ok with close friends to make jokes of a sexual nature on the job. But not all parties at work may be interested in these types of interactions. For instance, it can be harassment to ask about your sex life and make jokes with sexual undertones. The bottom line is if the conversation makes anyone uncomfortable or unwelcome, it may constitute harassment.


A more severe type of harassment is when you complain about someone at work, and there is retaliation. For instance, if you complain your boss made an inappropriate remark and you are passed up for a promotion, that could be retaliation.

Who Is Liable For A Sexual Harassment Claim In California?

California laws state that a worker who perpetuates sexual harassment may be personally liable for damages to the victim. It does not matter if the company knew or should have been aware of the harassment. Employers are strictly responsible if a supervisor did the sexual harassment or if the perpetrator was the employer.

So, if the harassment came from the victim’s supervisor, the company is responsible for damages regardless of if the employer knew or should have known about the conduct. It also does not matter if the company took corrective action, either.

Further, the employer may be liable for a victim’s damages if they were aware or should have been aware of the sexual harassment and did not take corrective action. However, a victim’s first action in a sexual harassment claim cannot be to file a lawsuit simply.

Instead, you must file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and receive a right-to-sue letter. If the department does not bring a suit within 150 days, they must tell you, then you can obtain the right-to-sue letter. Only after you obtain this notice can you file a claim in court.

What Is ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Sexual Harassment?

Not all sexual harassment in the workplace is subtle. One of the more egregious forms of the practice is ‘quid pro quo’ sexual harassment. This refers to a supervisor or manager who wants sexual favors to provide a workplace benefit. To prove this form of harassment, you must show the following:

  • You worked for that supervisor, applied for a job through them, or gave services to them at work.
  • The supervisor made undesired sexual advances to you.
  • A work benefit was made contingent on fulfilling sexual favors.
  • This sexual harassment harmed you.
  • Your supervisor’s actions significantly affected the harm inflicted on you.

This type of sexual harassment always involves demanding sexual favors for benefits. These include a raise, promotion, additional working hours, project assignments, or a better work schedule.

Damages Available To California Sexual Harassment Victims

If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment in Inland Empire or elsewhere in the state, you may be entitled to recover financial damages for your losses. If you win your harassment claim, you could receive the following:

  • Compensation for emotional harm and distress
  • Reinstatement or hiring
  • Promotion or back pay
  • Changes in practices and policies in your company

If you file a lawsuit and win, the court could also provide attorney costs and fees and fees for expert witnesses. In a rare situation, the victim also could receive punitive damages if the company was especially reckless and malicious.

Contact Our Sexual Harassment Attorney In Inland Empire Today

If you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, you have legal options and could be entitled to relief under state and federal law. Speak to our sexual harassment attorneys in Inland Empire today at Law Office of Joseph Richards, P.C. at (888) 883-6588.

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