Schedule Your Free Case Evaluation

California Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws – Know Your Rights!

Emanuel Shirazi

Thousands of Californians file workplace sexual harassment claims against their employers each year, making it a significant issue that employees may potentially face in their places of employment. It is important to understand your rights if you are faced with this type of harassment, as it can make you feel isolated and alone. Being familiar with California laws and your legal options will help you make informed choices in this challenging time, whether for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding Sexual Harassment

According to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, sexual harassment can be understood as occurrences where a work colleague directs sexually suggestive and unwelcome advances toward you. This broad definition allows for sexual harassment events to be written, spoken, or physical. There are two main types of sexual harassment under the law:

  • Hostile Work Environment
    This type of sexual harassment occurs when unwanted sexual advancements, conduct, or comments are severe or pervasive enough to negatively alter the work environment. One major factor in making this claim is showing that a reasonable person would feel harassed by the sexual misconduct.
  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
    This form of sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor seeks sexual favors from an unwilling employee as a condition of or in exchange for providing workplace benefits such as a promotion, raise, or favorable hours. To be considered quid pro quo sexual harassment, there must be repercussions that can be connected to the employee’s refusal.

One of the major conditions of workplace sexual harassment is the actions must be unwelcome. If the employee welcomes the attention of the supervisor, sexual harassment has not occurred. Ultimately, the intent of the actions is the center of sexual harassment, not the actions themselves.

Who Can Commit Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment can arise from a variety of people in the workplace, not just other coworkers. Potential aggressors include:

  • Company Owners
  • Supervisors or Managers
  • Co-workers
  • Customers
  • Clients
  • Vendors
  • Independent Contractors

Though any person connected to the business can commit sexual harassment, holding the company liable for their actions is easier when the misconduct comes from a supervisor because they are strictly liable for any resulting legal damages. Supervisors and others in positions of management are also the only persons that can conduct quid pro quo sexual harassment, as they are in a position to impose punishments for failure to comply with their unwanted advances.

If anyone other than a supervisor is responsible for sexual harassment, the company can only be held liable if you can show that the company knew about the harassment and was negligent in preventing or stopping it. If a complaint is made to company leadership about sexual misconduct and no corrective actions are taken, the employer becomes liable for the harassment. Even if you cannot hold the employer responsible, you still have options to pursue the harassing individual.

Proving Workplace Sexual Harassment

The biggest factor in building a successful sexual harassment case is ensuring you have enough evidence to support your claims. Sufficient evidence can make the process simpler and increase your chance of receiving appropriate justice. Evidence you should be collecting includes:

  • Written Records
    Thoroughly document any instances of sexual harassment while also noting the date, time, and location of the events. Ensure this documentation is held in a secure place that allows easy access for updating after each occurrence.
  • Copy Relevant Emails or Other Communications
    Any emails, text messages, or other communications that contain the sexual harassment or any pertinent information should be saved. It is essential that you maintain access to these pieces of evidence, as someone may attempt to delete them to remove any proof of the misconduct.
  • Anything That Shows You Made a Report
    Informing the person or HR that you are uncomfortable with their advances is a key step in progressing with your case. This eliminates any excuse they could have that they believed their attention was wanted, strengthening your case for sexual harassment. If you have a conversation that is not recorded, follow up in an email where you reference the conversation and summarize everything that was spoken about during the talk.


Q: Is Gender, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation Relevant to Sexual Harassment Accusations?

A: Gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation do not play a part in substantiating sexual harassment claims. Women aggressors will be held just as culpable as aggressors that are men. Sexual harassment will also apply in situations where the victim and aggressor are the same gender or gender identity, regardless of sexual orientation. Any unwanted sexual behavior in a workplace can be considered sexual harassment and will be legally pursued in the same manner.

Q: Should I Take Action Against My Employer for Workplace Sexual Harassment?

A: FEHA was created specifically to provide employees with a route to report and prosecute targeted misconduct in the workplace, including sexual harassment. Though it may feel intimidating to make a claim or file a lawsuit against your employer, they are ultimately responsible for allowing the sexual harassment to occur/ continue, and you should seek the compensation you are owed.

Q: What Is The Statute of Limitations for Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim?

A: A statute of limitations is the time period in which you have to file your complaint; filing after this period has passed will likely invalidate your claim and prevent you from progressing. Filings with the California Civil Rights Department (formerly the Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) must be made within three years of the most recent incident of sexual harassment.

Q: Can a Sexual Harassment Attorney Help My Case?

A: Having an attorney in your corner is always beneficial during legal matters. Their experience and knowledge amount to an invaluable resource as you navigate civil law. They can help you determine which law to file under, correctly complete the paperwork, and file the documents on your behalf. They can assume the responsibility of handling the legal components, allowing you to continue living your life and recovering from the harassment.

Your Right to a Safe Workplace

Ultimately, California law protects employees by ensuring they have recovery options if someone within their work environment breaks the law and engages in sexual harassment. For information on your options for proceeding with a sexual harassment claim, contact Shirazi Law Firm, PC, for a consultation.

Recent Posts