7 Signs of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment remains one of the most common and overlooked forms of workplace discrimination today. Many employees assume they’d easily recognize sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace. But harassment today happens in many more subtle forms than employees realize. 

In this blog post, we’ll explain how employees and managers can recognize signs of sexual harassment in the workplace. We’ll also break down the steps to get help if you’ve seen or experienced this kind of harassment on the job.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Legally, sexual harassment is considered a type of employment discrimination. California and federal law make it illegal to mistreat or harass an employee on the basis of sex. This includes mistreatment because of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Harassment on the basis of sex can happen in many different forms. Generally, it covers any kind of unwanted sexual advances, requests, physical contact, or comments in the workplace. However, sexual harassment doesn’t always have to be motivated by sexual desire. 

Sexual harassment also isn’t limited to inappropriate behavior from your supervisor. Anyone in the workplace can perpetrate sexual harassment, including coworkers, contractors, and customers. 

How Do I Know If I’m Being Sexually Harassed at Work?

Here, we’ll take a closer look at some common signs of sexual harassment at work. Remember, all cases are different. The best person to answer specific questions about your situation is an employment lawyer. 

1. Offers or Threats that Hinge on Sexual Acts

When your boss asks you to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a job opportunity—a raise, promotion, or assignment—that’s illegal harassment. This kind of misconduct can also take a more menacing form: for example, your boss might threaten to fire or demote you unless you perform a sex act. Legally, this is called “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. It happens whenever you’re compelled to engage in unwanted sexual activity in exchange for a benefit or to avoid a threat.

2. Repeated Requests for Dates

When someone you work with won’t take “no” for an answer, that’s another sexual harassment red flag. A coworker who keeps asking you on dates or making sexual advances after you’ve said you’re not interested could be engaging in harassing behavior. Unwanted gifts or messages with sexual content are also warning signs to watch out for.

3. Unwanted Physical Contact

Any touching, kissing, hugging, and groping that makes you uncomfortable isn’t appropriate for the workplace. If someone does this repeatedly and ignores your request to stop, that could be grounds for a sexual harassment claim. The most extreme form of unwanted contact is sexual assault. If you’ve been assaulted, contact a Los Angeles sexual harassment attorney and law enforcement immediately.

4. Inappropriate Comments About Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

Harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature to be offensive or illegal. California law also prohibits any harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This can include rude comments, insistent personal questions, insults, and derogatory language. 

5. Excessive Attention to Physical Appearance

Repeated comments about your body or the way you dress can also qualify as sexual harassment if their impact gets in the way of your job. Inappropriate and disruptive behavior can appear as compliments, jokes, or insults. It also isn’t always verbal: excessive staring or leering can also be a form of harassment.

6. Sexualized Conversations

Sexual language can rise to the level of harassment, even if it’s not aimed directly at you. Coworkers who frequently discuss their sex lives, tell dirty jokes, or use inappropriate and explicit language are not contributing to a safe and respectful workplace. Even if you’re not part of the conversation or the target of a joke, you can still be affected by the atmosphere they encourage. When this atmosphere is offensive and intimidating enough to impact your job performance, you could have a legal issue.

7. Online Harassment

In the modern workplace of today, sexual harassment isn’t limited to the physical office. As remote work becomes more common, more employees are now also experiencing harassment by digital means. Email, video conferences, phone calls, and other digital platforms are all potential channels for explicit or sexually suggestive messages from coworkers. Just because you may receive unwanted messages outside work hours doesn’t make them less inappropriate.

What Should I Do About Sexual Harassment at Work?

If you think you’re seeing signs of sexual harassment at your job, don’t ignore them. If something feels wrong, it’s best to speak to an attorney about your concerns. Report any inappropriate behavior to your human resources department so that your employer has the chance to correct it. The law requires employers to respond to reports of harassment and discrimination and take reasonable steps to end any misconduct. 

Do everything you can to document the harassment you observe or experience. Save any messages you receive and take photos of any inappropriate images. If someone says or does something that feels inappropriate, keep a record of it in a journal. 

Be aware of your rights: it’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you in any way for reporting sexual harassment. If you face threats or punishment after speaking to your supervisor about harassment, contact a lawyer immediately. 

Don’t Suffer Abuse in Silence: Contact an Attorney

Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable at work. Learning how to recognize the signs of sexual harassment in the workplace is the first step in fostering a safer and more respectful environment for all employees. The next step is knowing when to get help. If you’re concerned about harassment at your job, it’s best to consult with a trained employment lawyer sooner rather than later.

The employment attorneys at King & Siegel LLP have spent years helping California workers navigate the legal and emotional turmoil of sexual harassment. We’re dedicated to providing all clients with high-quality legal advice, no matter where your case leads. Reach out to our office today to schedule a free one-on-one consultation with a representative today. 

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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