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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: How You Can Protect Yourself

February 11, 2019 Legal Team

We’ve all had that co-worker. Perhaps they make “jokes” that are just a bit too personal. Maybe they don’t get the hint when you reject their dinner invitation (for the 3rd time). Or maybe they even get a little too touchy with their hugs and shoulder massages. But it’s nothing to cause a scene over, right?

Not necessarily.

Cosmopolitan magazine recently conducted a survey of 2,235 women, and the results were disheartening. According to the study, 1 in 3 women face sexual harassment in the workplace. That’s not to say that men never face sexual harassment in the workplace, but this particular survey focused on the statistics surrounding females.

So how can you tell if you’re being sexually harassed, and what can you do about it?

  1. Sexual harassment can be more than just unwanted touching

Of the women surveyed, 84% stated they experienced sexual harassment verbally. Many people are unaware that this falls under the category of sexual harassment! Other forms of sexual harassment may include lewd/inappropriate texts & emails, jokes/comments about your body or a specific gender, and of course unconsented physical contact. Additionally, many people do not know that sexual harassment can occur without the motive being sexual in nature. For example, a heterosexual male can still experience sexual harassment from another heterosexual male. Sexual harassment in the workplace need not come from someone of the opposite gender or sexual orientation.

  1. Taking action is not only critical but your right!

71% of the women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace did not report it. Some reasons people may not report their experiences are because

  • They don’t realize they are being harassed
  • They are afraid of repercussions from the attacker
  • They are afraid of repercussions from the employer

However, in California sexual harassment in the workplace complaints fall under a special category of protected circumstances which cannot be used as grounds for termination. Retaliation in regards to reporting a perceived illegal activity (whether it turns out to actually be illegal or not) would also be unlawful.

Often, employers will first ask if you have explicitly told the harasser “no” (using that exact word or an equivalent phrase), or expressed to the harasser that their behavior is making you uncomfortable before upper management will get involved (depending on the severity of the situation). The expectation for you to be responsible for ending the problem can be nerve-wracking of course because you probably don’t want to make things even more awkward with the co-worker in question. However, it is important to protect your right to a comfortable & safe work environment, and simply saying “no” may be the first step. If you have already told your harasser how you feel, or you do not feel appropriate action has been taken by your employers to ensure your safety, it may be the right move to follow up with HR.

  1. Document all incidents and get things in writing when you can

If you feel that you are being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, it is imperative to document as many details as possible about the incidents. Be sure to include dates, times, names of people involved, etc. Additionally, be sure to save all emails or text messages which may include important details of the situation – whether from the harasser themselves, or you discussing the situation with another person. This will help further down the line if you decide to pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit or when speaking to management about your concern. The more thorough you are, the more “legitimate” your claims will appear to be.

  1. If the situation becomes threatening, contact the local authorities as soon as possible

A co-worker should never threaten your life, stalk you, or even allude to harming you. If their actions reach this level and you feel your safety may be in serious danger, please contact your neighborhood police.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is totally unacceptable. Find out what your options are to fight it legally at