Sexual Harassment: Your Rights in a Hostile Workplace

Perhaps you go to work purely to pay the bills. Maybe your current position is a strategic career move. Whatever your reason for working where you do, you’re entitled to do it without being sexually harassed.

Unfortunately, a lot of bosses and coworkers don’t get that message. In May 2019, a joint study by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Center for Gender Equity and Health at University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported that:

  • In this state, reports of sexual harassment are 5% higher for women and 10% higher for men than the national average. 
  • 33% of the women and 28% of the men reported being sexually harassed at work.

Sexual harassment in the workplace may be prevalent, but it’s also illegal. If it happens to you, a California employment attorney can help you get justice.

California Law and Sexual Harassment at Work


To establish sexual harassment, the conduct must be unwelcome and so pervasive or severe that it creates a hostile work environment. It is important to note that you don’t necessarily have to be the target: witnessing acts of sexual harassment directed at a coworker can make it impossible for you to do your job.

Examples of such harassment may include:

  • Leering or aggressive staring
  • Sexually explicit comments that are disrespectful and make you feel unsafe
  • Intentionally touching or brushing up against you in a sexual way
  • Constantly asking for your phone number or a date when you’ve refused

Another type of sexual harassment, known as quid pro quo, occurs when a superior (e.g., supervisor or manager) promises a promotion, raise, or other type of career advancement in exchange for sexual favors. If these favors are not provided, they may threaten the employee with demotion or even termination.

What Should You Do?

If the behavior persists, your next move should be to report it to HR or a manager. Be sure to provide any evidence, such as emails, texts, or a diary logging the harassment, as well as the names of any witnesses. 

Should the company fail to take corrective action or, even worse, retaliate by firing you, contact a California employees’ rights attorney. Unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which only covers employers with at least fifteen employees, state law applies to all private, state and local employers, and you can seek compensation even if you work for a smaller company.

Are you a California employee with questions for an employment attorney?

At SWemploymentlaw employment law is what we do — it’s what we’re passionate about, and it’s the sole focus of our law practice. 

We’re committed to effectively representing the rights of employees across the state of California — because we believe that everyone has the right to earn a living and provide for their family, free of unlawful discrimination and harassment. 

Our firm has won millions of dollars for employees all over California and we only take cases on contingency, which means we don’t get paid unless we win your case. Our fees come out of the court verdict or settlement with the company, so you don’t pay anything out of pocket. 


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