Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment in Orange County

Ever since the #MeToo movement was launched several years ago, there’s been a lot of talk about sexual harassment. In California, sexual harassment is prohibited under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which deals with discrimination in the workplace. If you believe you are being harassed, you need to contact experienced California sexual harassment lawyers so they can assess whether you have a case (from a legal point of view) and how to proceed with a complaint. 

How is sexual harassment defined under California law?

Sexual harassment can occur between co-workers, between employees and customers or clients, or even between non-employees and employees. Additionally, sexual harassment can be directed at individuals of any gender, and it can occur in any industry or workplace setting.

The FEHA refers to two main types of sexual harassment in the workplace: quid pro quo and hostile work environment, depending on who is harassing you.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

This type of harassment occurs when an employer or supervisor demands sexual favors from an employee in exchange for job benefits, such as promotions, pay raises, or favorable job assignments. Quid pro quo harassment can also occur when an employee is threatened with adverse job consequences, such as demotion or termination, if they do not comply with the sexual demands.

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

This type of harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Seasoned sexual harassment lawyers warn that to be able to file a complaint the conduct must be severe or pervasive enough to alter the employee’s working conditions and create a hostile work environment. In other words, one isolated incident, such as a sexist joke or someone touching your breasts, does not constitute sexual harassment.

Examples of workplace sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can take many different forms in the workplace. The following are some examples of different forms of sexual harassment:


  • Verbal harassment: This form of harassment involves unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or innuendos, as well as sexual propositions, requests for sexual favors, or explicit discussions about sex.
  • Physical harassment: This refers to unwanted physical touching, hugging, kissing, or brushing up against someone, as well as more severe forms of physical harassment, such as sexual assault.
  • Visual harassment: This includes the display of sexually suggestive or explicit material, such as posters, calendars, or other images around the office.
  • Written harassment: This form of harassment involves sending or displaying sexually suggestive or explicit notes, emails, or text messages.
  • Online harassment: This refers to using social media, email, or other forms of online communication to harass someone, often anonymously.
  • Threats and retaliation: This form of harassment involves using threats or coercion to force someone into sexual activity, as well as taking negative job actions against an employee who has refused to comply with sexual demands.

It’s important to note that not all instances of sexual harassment fit neatly into these categories, and any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile work environment or interferes with an employee’s work may be considered sexual harassment. If you’re dealing with any type of harassment, you must make it clear you find such conduct offensive. Knowledgeable lawyers say that if you do not object to sexually-explicit jokes or inappropriate touching, when you file a complaint the perpetrator(s) may argue they thought you were cool with that and they had no idea you were offended.

Under California law, if an employee believes they are working in a hostile work environment, they should report the conduct to their employer or human resources department. The employer is legally required to investigate the complaint and take appropriate action to address the issue. If the employer fails to take action or the harassment continues, the employee may have legal options available, such as filing a complaint with a government agency or pursuing a lawsuit.

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