How to know if you’re being sexually harassed

Everyone has a right to a safe work environment, whether you’re a worker or the boss. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not something that should ever be tolerated. The California state government puts the responsibility of preventing harassment from occurring in the first place on employers. 

Even with all the precautions and preventative measures in place, however, sexual harassment may—and often does—still occur. As an employee, you need to know your rights and protect yourself from all forms of harassment and discrimination. Knowing the signs of sexual harassment and what your options are is of the utmost importance. 

Signs you’re being sexually harassed in the workplace

Experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace is a traumatic ordeal. Because of the stigma surrounding cases of sexual harassment, victims have trouble speaking out. This in turn makes it harder for others to better understand what qualifies as sexual harassment.

Any unwelcome action can be considered a form of sexual harassment. To clarify, here are the most common signs of harassment in the workplace:

A coworker or supervisor makes you feel uncomfortable

Any implied or implicit sexual comment and/or action of a coworker that makes you feel uncomfortable in your workplace can be grounds for a sexual harassment complaint.

Inappropriate workplace behavior can be blatant acts or much more inconspicuous behavior. Some examples of inappropriate conduct include persistent flirting, unwelcomed requests to communicate on social media, and sending unwanted pictures.  

This can be a targeted action that singles you out specifically, or a non-targeted act like putting up unsavory posters in the office.

A coworker or supervisor acts sexist towards you 

Sexual discrimination in the workplace is a serious issue that can be experienced by both men and women. Sexist behavior can be considered sexual harassment because it contributes to a hostile work environment.

If you’re being singled out because of your perceived or actual sexual or gender identity, then you’re experiencing sexual harassment. Other examples include:

  • Being passed over for a job opportunity because of your gender
  • Being assigned tasks because of your gender and not your qualifications
  • Being treated differently compared with other coworkers because of your gender

A coworker or supervisor makes inappropriate physical advances

This is one of the most common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace. Being subjected to unwelcome and inappropriate physical contact is sexual harassment. Here are more instances of this type of harassment:

  • Hugging
  • Hair touching
  • Shoulder rubbing
  • Brushing up against any part of someone’s body
  • Physically blocking someone from entering or exiting

Whether it’s accidental or not, you have the right to be free from unwanted physical contact in the workplace.

A supervisor asks for sexual favors

This is also known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. This type of harassment is done by a supervisor, manager, or someone with higher authority than the employee. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves an employee being coerced into doing a sexual act in exchange for employee benefits like better hours, higher pay, or a promotion. 

A person who is forced to do a sexual act to avoid negative consequences is being subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment. A good example would be someone in a managerial position forcing a subordinate to do sexual acts to avoid being fired.

What you can do to combat sexual harassment

Once you’ve identified any signs of sexual harassment and have confirmed that you’re being harassed, it’s time to take the next step. Don’t be afraid to come forward with your complaints. The following are ways to help you combat sexual harassment:

Report it to the human resources department

Review your company’s policy on sexual harassment and the complaint process. You need to report everything to the human resources department; it’s best to set the incident in writing beforehand so you have a concise account of the event/s that took place. 

File charges with the relevant organization

If your employer has been made aware of the harassment but it has not stopped or your company has failed to do anything about it, then consider filing charges with a government agency. In California, you can file with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Seek outside legal counsel

Understand your rights and what your legal avenues are by hiring a sexual assault attorney. Hiring your own attorney will be helpful even if you don’t file formal charges. They’ll be able to advise you on your options and the best course of action. 

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