Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

S.E. Williams | Executive Editor

Workplace sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination that violates federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Such harassment can happen between people of the same gender, different genders, coworkers, an employee and a client or customer, or an employee and their supervisor, among others. It can also occur in a range of settings, not only in the workplace, but it can also occur at a work-related event outside of the workplace, or during work travel.

There are two types of unlawful workplace sexual harassment. One type involves conduct where a worker is forced to endure as a condition of employment. This type of harassment identified as “quid pro quo” — or “this for that” — may involve a supervisor pressuring or coercing a subordinate to engage in sexual acts in return for continued employment, a promotion, favorable hours or shifts, time off or a positive review.

The other type of sexual harassment occurs when conduct is intentional, recurring, severe and/or pervasive and impacts one’s ability to perform their job. This is considered a “hostile work environment.” Examples of this type of sexual harassment can include a colleague making offensive jokes, comments, insults, or sharing offensive images.

Not Everyone is Protected

Unfortunately, Title VII does not protect everyone. Workers whose employers have fewer than 15 employees—including many domestic workers and some farm workers—independent contractors and self-employed individuals are not protected from workplace sexual harassment by federal law.

If You Witness Sexual Harassment

If someone witnesses offensive conduct, they may be the victim of sexual harassment even if not directly harassed. It is illegal for an employer who is covered by Title VII to retaliate against an employee for filing a claim of sexual harassment or participating in an investigation. Employers have a responsibility to take steps to prevent and correct sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace.

What You Can Do If You Experience Harassment at Work

It is important to know you have rights, protections, and options if you experience sexual harassment at work. If you feel that directly addressing the harassment is safe, you can tell the person who is doing something you find inappropriate, intimidating, hostile or abusive to stop, either in the moment or in a follow-up conversation so it is clear the conduct is unwanted.

Whether you experience a single incident or recurring harassment, write down the details each time it happens. Include the date and time, the name of the person who harassed you, where it took place, who – if anyone – witnessed it, and what was said and/or done. Be sure to keep a copy of the information outside of your workplace.


Reporting Sexual Harassment to Your Employer

Read your employer’s policy on harassment and follow it to report an incident. If your employer does not have a policy, consider reporting harassment to a trusted supervisor or human resources specialist. If the first person you report it to does not act, report it to someone else. Save all communications and take notes on all conversations. You can also report harassment to your union representative if you have one.

Filing an External Report of Sexual Harassment

Contact the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to learn more about your rights, resources and/or to file a charge.

You can submit a charge of harassment online or in person within 180 days of when the harassment occurs. You do not need a lawyer to do so.

Once you have filed a charge, a notice will be sent to your employer, and the EEOC will determine how to proceed. Possibilities include mediation with your employer or an investigation by the EEOC. You can check the status of your claim via the EEOC Public Portal.

If you want to be represented by an attorney you can refer to the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) Exchange Find-A-Lawyer database, the American Association of University Women’s list of legal aid organizations or contact the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.

Source: National Partnership for Women and Families (

About The Author

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager in the telecommunications industry before retiring to pursue her passion as a reporter and non-fiction writer. Beyond writing, Williams’ personal interests include stone-carving, drumming and sculpting.

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