FAQ: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
What is sexual harassment?
California State regulations define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser.
The following is a partial list of prohibited behavior:
- Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters.
- Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs and jokes. Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individuals body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual.
- Physical conduct: touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements.
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors.
- Making or threatening retaliatory action after receiving a negative response to sexual advances.
What is quid pro quo sexual harassment?
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or one in an authority position requests sex, or a sexual relationship, in exchange for not firing or otherwise punishing the employee, or in exchange for favors, such as promotions or raises.
What is hostile work environment sexual harassment?
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs through the presence of demeaning or sexual photographs, jokes or threats. The inappropriate behavior or conduct must be so pervasive as to, as the name implies, create an intimidating and offensive work environment.
Can a woman harass another woman or a man harass another man?
Yes. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that illegal sexual harassment can occur between people of the same sex.
Is it true that only supervisors or those in authority positions can be a harasser?
No. A harasser can be a coworker and, in some cases, a third party such as an agent or client of the employer. The key is whether the employer knew or should have known of the harassing behavior and failed to take action to prevent the harassment from occurring.