(866) 448-4989

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment Under California Law?

Sexual harassment has become a common problem faced by US employees, so much so that NPR reports that as many as 38% of women have been sexually harassed at work. But of those who face harassment, few report it. Part of the reason may be that many people are unsure about what constitutes sexual harassment and what type of recourse is available to them. 

In the summary below, is a discussion about legal parameters of sexual harassment by law in California and what you can do about it. 

Title VII Protections

One of the most important pieces of legislation in Federal employment law is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which, under Title VII, forbids sexual harassment in the workplace in any business with 15 or more employees. It specifically outlines two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment and harassment that creates a hostile work environment.


Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor uses an employee’s acceptance or rejection of a sexual advance as a criterion for an employment decision. For example, suppose a manager suggests that he or she will give a promotion to a subordinate in exchange for sexual favors. In that case, this is an example of quid pro quo harassment and is in violation of Title VII. 


Hostile work environment Sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct creates a hostile or offensive work environment or affects employees’ job performance. If employers are or should have been aware of the harassment and failed to attempt to correct it, they can be held liable. 

Enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or EEOC) is the Federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, which include sexual harassment claims. They offer more details about what constitutes sexual harassment. 


They explain that common types of workplace sexual harassment include “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” In addition, disparaging remarks about an employee’s sex, such as rude generalizations about men or women in general, can also constitute sexual harassment. 


Further examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include the following: 

  • Blocking someone’s movements, 
  • Sexual comments via virtual communication (emails, texts, etc.), 
  • Making derogatory comments or using slurs, 
  • Displaying sexually charged objects, pictures, posters, etc. 
  • Physical touching and assault

The EEOC also clarifies that victims and harassers can be of either sex, and by a direct supervisor or a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, a customer, or a client. 


When conflicts or confusion arise in the workplace as a result of harassment, one of the best strategies to handle it is through conducting a workplace investigation, which, when run by a skilled investigator, will help clarify facts around what happened and resolve the situation. 

The Fair Employment and Housing Act in California

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act provides additional protection against workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. It prohibits harassment in all workplaces, regardless of the number of employees, and includes other workers like volunteers or contractors in addition to employees. 

Importantly, it also bans retaliation against employees because of their assertion of their legal rights. This is crucial, as fear of employer retaliation is a major reason why many people don’t report sexual harassment. 

Finding an Employment Lawyer For Your Workplace Sexual Harassment Case

Workplace sexual harassment cases often involve gray areas and various legal statutes that can be difficult to navigate. That’s why it’s essential to work with an experienced employment attorney. Ruben Ruiz Law provides the expertise and tenacity to protect your interests in every sexual harassment case. 


Partner Lisa Chapman has over 30 years of legal experience, and represents both employers and employees in their sexual harassment disputes in order help them return their workplaces to normalcy. In order to schedule a consultation today, fill out the form below

Contact us today by filling out the form below. Our fees start at $250 for half an hour. If we decide to work together, the fee for the initial consultation will be credited to your account.