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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment and misconduct are garnering massive attention nationwide. Federal and California state laws offer powerful protections against workplace sexual harassment and further protections are likely to result from the recent scandals gripping Hollywood and Washington alike.

In recent months, the reports of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment have swept the nation, highlighting just how much work is left to do in regards to putting a stop to the sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo movement has set in motion many long overdue changes for the workplace and how these incidents are dealt with.

Here is what you should know and who you should talk to.


First, it is important to understand what constitutes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes any kind of unwanted sexual advance as well as visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment takes two forms; Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment Harassment.

Quid Pro Quo

The most commonly understood form of harassment is quid pro quo sexual harassment. In Latin, “Quid pro quo” essentially means “this for that”. This form of sexual harassment occurs in the workplace when a manager or other person of authority offers or hints that the employee will be given something (a raise or a promotion) in return for that employee’s satisfaction of a sexual demand.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is probably the most blatant form of exploitation and harassment and the law is correspondingly harsh toward this type of harassment. Under California law, the employer is strictly liable for the sexual harassment of the supervisor and a successful plaintiff can recover lost wages and compensation of other economic losses, emotional distress damages, interest and attorney fees.

Hostile Work Environment

When the harassing conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment for employees, supervisors, co-workers, even subordinates can be guilty of hostile work environment (HWE) harassment. Harassing conduct can include slurs, taunts, jokes, intimidation, ridicule, groping, grabbing, etc.

The requirement for HWE is not severe AND pervasive, but rather severe OR pervasive. Under this meaning, a single instance of harassing conduct could create a hostile work environment if it is deemed to be severe enough. Alternatively, an environment in which numerous acts of subtle harassment could also create a hostile work environment if it is collectively pervasive enough.

Recently, the California Supreme Court held that employer actions, such as termination, demotion, etc., could also constitute hostile work environment harassing conduct. See Roby v. McKesson HBOC (2009) 146 Cal.App.4th 63.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Can Take Many Forms, Including:



Reporting sexual harassment is not like filing a lawsuit; you do not need a lawyer to fill out the initial paperwork or to report the incident to your HR manager. However, you will want to consult or hire an attorney later if your company does not resolve the issue to your satisfaction and you decide to pursue legal action.

In many cases, sexual harassment exists in a pattern. An attorney will advise you to keep a detailed written record of incidents. Include everything you can: the date, the time, the location, the perpetrator, and anyone who may have witnessed it.


Protections Against Retaliation

Not only do laws protect employees from sexual harassment, they also protect employees from retaliation after reporting sexual harassment. When you report sexual harassment, you are legally protected from retaliation. That means your employer cannot fire you, demote you or take away job responsibilities. Sexual harassment is illegal and victims of such treatment should understand that they have the right to a workplace free from such behavior. The law provides remedies for workers who have been harassed when the employer will not step in and take action against the harasser.


Sexual harassment can happen to men and to women, and both are protected under the law. Sexual harassment laws offer strong protections in California and victims should not be afraid to fight back. If something does not seem right at work, tell our attorneys about it as soon as possible. Our initial consultation is free and confidential for potential clients.

If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should discuss your case with an attorney immediately! Contact our experienced Personal Injury Attorneys at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your legal options. A free consultation is just a phone call away. You can even use our online contact form, and we will reply to you quickly.

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