There are many ways someone in your workplace can violate state or federal anti-harassment laws, and that includes non-verbal sexual harassment. In this article, we will identify some examples of non-verbal misconduct and guide you through how to initiate a harassment complaint. At King & Siegel LLP, our experienced sexual harassment attorneys can help you hold your employer or harasser accountable.
Am I a Victim of Non-Verbal Harassment?
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaw sexual harassment in work settings. These laws define sexual harassment as unwelcome, sex-based conduct that an employee must endure to receive work benefits or that is so extreme or pervasive that a victim’s workplace would appear hostile to a reasonable person. Knowing the definition of sexual harassment is helpful, and protecting yourself in the workplace becomes easier when you have examples of unlawful behavior. So, let’s look at some common examples of non-verbal sexual harassment.
Instead of speaking about sexual activities or intimate body parts, some harassers use body language to convey sentiments that are inappropriate for the workplace. If you are around someone who suggestively licks their lips at others, points at intimate body parts (yours, a co-worker’s, or their own), or simulates sexual acts (with their hands or other parts) in the office, you may have sexual harassment claims.
Sometimes a look is enough to make a workplace feel unsafe for others. Do you have someone who stares at you or gives you “elevator eyes” (looking you up and down) while you are trying to work? Someone who looks at you in these ways could be liable for sexual harassment, depending on how extreme their actions are or how often the behavior occurs.
Unwelcome sexual advances are classic examples of sexual harassment. But a coworker, supervisor, or non-employee at your job does not have to put their advances into words to be guilty of this misconduct. If a supervisor leaves you a sex-based gift even once, they may be harassing you. And if a non-supervisory employee or non-employee brings you explicit gifts or continues to bring you gifts after you have asked them to stop, they could also be responsible for harassment. Inappropriate gifts can include flowers, condoms, intimate apparel, sex toys, and other items of a sexual nature.
Gifts that are not based on sexual desire can still constitute unlawful harassment if they are unwanted and based on sex or gender. For instance, “gifting” a box of tampons to someone who did not ask for them can give rise to a valid sexual harassment claim.
Getting Too Close
Proper respect for your personal space is important. If someone at your workplace invades that space by following you or standing or sitting too close to you, that is likely a violation of anti-harassment laws. And in this digital age, a co-worker or supervisor who stalks your social media posts might also be liable for sexual harassment.
Forcing sexual activity on an employee is not only sexual harassment. It is also criminal. There are also other forms of touch that might not be criminal or sexual but are just as unlawful under anti-harassment laws. Someone patting you on the shoulders, grabbing at your clothing, or touching any part of your body with any part of their body without your permission can be liable for sexual harassment. An accidental bump or a light tap on a non-intimate part of your body to get your attention may not be harassment, but if you ask someone in your workplace to stop touching you and the behavior continues, that is typically an actionable violation.
How Should I Respond to Sexual Harassment?
One of the main facts you need to establish in a sexual harassment case is that any sex-based misconduct you endured was unwelcome. This is why you should tell your harasser to stop at the first sign of misbehavior. We appreciate that dismissing a harasser is easier said than done, so consulting with an attorney about how to proceed is also a crucial step in your case.
To give yourself the best chance at holding your employer accountable for any harassment it fails to correct, you should also file an internal complaint according to your employer’s policies. If your employer can prove that you unreasonably failed to use its procedures to address the harassment you suffered, a judge or government official might let your employer off the hook for its part in fostering an unsafe workplace.
After dealing with harassment internally, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, or a lawsuit in court. Harassment victims have the right to recover financial damages and injunctive relief to help right the wrongs caused by harassers and employers. To handle these legal matters effectively and successfully, you should speak with an attorney immediately.
King & Siegel Is Ready to Champion Your Rights
You should not have to choose between your well-being and making a living. And our lawyers at King & Siegel have the experience and skills to help ensure that anyone responsible for the harassment you suffer at work is held accountable for their actions. We are award-winning sexual harassment lawyers in California who have had the best training in the nation. And we do not charge our clients unless we win for them. To schedule a free consultation, you can call us or reach out to us online.