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California Employment Lawyers > Blog > Employment > Sexual Harassment at Work Isn’t Always Obvious

Sexual Harassment at Work Isn’t Always Obvious


We all know that sexual harassment is serious. But if that’s the case, why are there so many jokes about it? People at work ask mockingly, if they are “allowed” to do or say things to others, without being sued. People will often jokingly say “uh-oh, am I going to get sued now?”

This may not always be due to ingnorance or insensitivity. It may very well be due to the fact that  many of us simply don’t recognize sexual harassment. Sure, we know that unwanted touching, or over the top sexual comments or advances constitute sexual harassment, but in many other cases, even victims themselves may wonder whether they are being “oversensitive,” or whether they have, in fact, been a victim of harassment.  Many times, the person being harassed will feel they somehow provoked or brought on the harassment.  It’s very hard for them to be objective due to the complicated emotions stirred when sexual harassment is occurring.

The confusion may discourage victims from coming forward to report harassment in the workplace.

Other than the more drastic and obvious examples, there are actions that constitute sexual harassment, that may not always be so obvious.

Talk and Photos – Talk about sexual behavior, even if not directed at the victim, can constitute sexual harassment. Work environments where people may circulate sexual jokes, sexual memes, or sexual pictures, all can create a hostile work environment, and then directed at a specific person, can be direct sexual harassment.

This may include people circulating pictures of themselves—for example, emailing a picture of someone’s body parts to a coworker, or exposing him or herself to another co-worker.  There have been cases where a co-worker shares videos of him/her engaged in sexual activity.

No Touch Needed – Non touching can also constitute harassment. Imagine someone making mock sexual “thrusting” in front of another employee, or standing in front of, and blocking the walking path of, a co-employee, or visibly staring at  certain parts of their body (looking them “up and down”).

Stalking – An employee may “stalk” another employee, following them around, or hovering over their desk or work area.  Neither of these involve any physical touch—but they are absolutely sexual harassment at work.

Persistently Asking Someone Out on a Date – Is asking someone on a date at work, sexual harassment? If it is a supervisor of the employee, then it well may be.  And, if the person fails to take no for an answer, that is harassing.

A supervisor is in a position of power and control over the employee under that supervisor. So when the employee denies the request, there is fear of repercussions or punishment. The end result may be the employee agreeing to the date, or to the sexual advances, simply to avoid retaliation.

Co-workers who are not supervisors may be able to safely ask someone out at work—but the mere act of asking someone on a date, can also create a difficult work environment, and if the request is denied, the denial is often followed up with repeated requests, which may get more and more pervasive. The denial of these advances also may be followed up with jokes, insults, or the employee who denied the advance, being “frozen out” of work or social groups in the workplace.

Don’t guess. Get help from attorneys who understand what sexual harassment is, and how it affects you. Contact the San Jose employment lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm today.




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