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Signs of sexual harassment in the workplace

When it comes to whether you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, trust your instincts. If a co-worker makes you feel uncomfortable, awkward or threatened by something he or she has said or done, then you are a victim of sexual harassment.

If you are unsure about what to do, review the company employee handbook, which should provide information about what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the California state agency that investigates sexual harassment and discrimination at workplaces. You can contact the DFEH or review its website for more information about what your rights are. You can also consult with an employment lawyer.

When caught in the moment, use your internal barometer to be the judge, and then take action. Firmly tell the harasser that his or her actions have made you uncomfortable, and then immediately contact your manager or the human resources department to report the incident. If the harasser is your manager, report the situation to human resources or someone above your manager.

Remember that the law protects you from retaliation. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting a good faith complaint of sexual harassment. Retaliation would include termination, demotion, or cutting back your hours.

Signs of workplace sexual harassment

No one needs to become a victim of workplace sexual harassment, which sometimes becomes frequent enough and severe enough that it creates a hostile work environment. Here are some signs that sexual harassment is occurring in your workplace:

  • Unwelcomed sexual advances and the seeking of sexual favors: This is sometimes referred to as a “quid pro quo” form of sexual harassment. The harasser demands such things in exchange for, perhaps, a promotion or ensuring that you will not be fired.
  • Inappropriate touching or standing too close to you: Many harassers may touch their victims or themselves in inappropriate ways at work. Some ways may even be sexually provocative. This unwelcomed behavior should not be happening anywhere, especially at work.
  • Leers at you and makes inappropriate comments about your body: These are offensive remarks that the harasser feels will provide him or her with more power. Avoid engaging with this person and report such situations to human resources.
  • Shares offensive remarks, jokes and pornographic pictures: These outrageous situations have been going on for decades. It was wrong to do this in the 1950s, and it’s wrong today. Where do these Neanderthals come from?
  • Asks about your sexual experiences: Personal discussions of this nature do not belong in the workplace. If someone is asking you such questions at work, this is a warning sign. Limit your time with this person to only work-related meetings – never one-on-one meetings.
  • Regularly wants to meet with you one-on-one outside of work. Don’t fall for this.

Victims sometimes fear repercussions if they report sexual harassment. Remember you have the power, you have the control. Stand up for yourself, stay strong and assertive and seek support from trusted people and law enforcement.


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