In an attempt to define the term sexual harassment, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) describes it as “any unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.“
Despite years of attention in the media and law courts, the occurrence of sexual harassment cases in the workplace is at an alarming rate. A report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reveals that since 2010, more than 7000 claims of sexual harassment charges have been filed with the commission annually.
A recent study by the Stop Street Harassment Movement reveals that 38% of women have at one point in the career experienced various forms of sexual harassment in their workplace. The sudden rise in sexual harassment cases led to the rise of social movements such as the “MeToo” Campaign and “Stop Street Harassment” Movement.
While there is a widespread campaign against workplace sexual harassment, there is still some confusion as to what actions or behaviors constitute sexual harassment and what don’t. In this article, you will learn more about several scenarios that may constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. The scenarios attempt to build an understanding of the two major forms of workplace sexual harassment as proposed by the California FEHA, i.e., quid pro quo (something for something) and hostile work environment.
1. Example Scenario 1
Helen is an intelligent young team leader working in an advertising firm. Known to be dedicated, she is loved by all her colleagues. One evening, Helen decides to stay back with her colleague, Sean, to work on the team presentation. Sean offers to buy Helen dinner and later drop her home since Helen had no car of her own.
After dinner, Sean cunningly proposed to Helen that he would love to spend the night with her. Helen turned down his request politely, but firmly, and went home. The next evening, Sean tries his luck, but Helen refuses to budge to his request. Upon Helen’s refusal, Sean is angry and threatens to tell everyone in the team that she made passes at him.
In the above example, Sean threat to Helen that if she doesn’t accept his proposal for a sexual favor, he’ll in turn, ruin her personality at the office and constitute a quid pro quo form of sexual harassment. Sean’s actions are unwelcome, sexual, and may hurt Helen.
2. Example Scenario 2
Sarah works as a domestic helper in the residence of Ms. Judy. Most of the days, Ms. Judy leaves home very early for work. Sarah is often left in the company of an older family member.
Sarah finds that the older male member constantly leers at her in a lewd manner and walks around the house in nothing but a towel which makes her very uncomfortable. Sometime, last week, while she was sweeping, he tried to fondle her breast. When Sarah protested that she would report to Ms. Judy, he threatened to accuse her of theft, and that he would ensure she loses her work.
Based on the above scenario, the older male member, by threatening Sarah to keep mute about the unwelcome sexual advances if she wants to keep her job, constitutes a quid pro quo form of sexual harassment. It also represents a hostile work environment form of sexual environment because Sarah is likely to be scared and uncomfortable working in such a situation.
3. Example Scenario 3
Hillary works at a garment factory in San Diego. Bruce, Hillary’s supervisor, often tries to touch her under pretext. For example, last week, he tried to touch the upper area of her chest under the guise that he saw an ant. This week, he tries to hold her waist. Hillary is uncomfortable with his actions, but is scared to report to the garment factory owner. Her colleagues at the factory mock Hillary for the sudden special treatment by the supervisor. They seem to gossip about her and Bruce.
In the above scenario, the physical touching by Bruce is unwelcome and sexual in nature. The gossip or side talks, which is based on Bruce behavior towards Helen at the workplace constitute a hostile form of sexual harassment.
4. Example Scenario 4
Taylor is a researcher at a biological laboratory led by Dr. Charlotte, a reputable biology scientist. In the first few months of his employment, Dr. Charlotte is pleased with Taylor’s work and punctuality. Soon after, Dr. Charlotte frequently summons Taylor to her office under the guise of work collaborations.
One day, Dr. Charlotte makes a series of verbal sexual colored remarks to Taylor. She waves aside his protest and claims that they will only be able to work together if he agrees to her sexual advances. However, once he declined her advances, she stopped. Now she ridicules his works and publicly humiliates him.
In the above scenario, the negative workplace behaviors are a result of Taylor rejecting the unwelcome, sexual remarks and advances of Dr. Charlotte. This creates a hostile form of workplace sexual harassment.
In conclusion, sexual harassment is a common issue in the workplace. Under the California employment law, every employee has the right to work without being sexually or physically harassed. If you have experienced/experiencing any form of sexual harassment either from your employer or employee, you must speak to an employment attorney for further assistance.