Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

March 27, 2023

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that affects many individuals across different industries. Despite the significant strides made toward addressing this problem, sexual harassment continues to be prevalent in today's workplace. As a San Francisco employment attorney, I have seen the detrimental effects of sexual harassment on individuals and their careers firsthand. To help shed light on this issue, the following content covers different types of sexual harassment and provides example scenarios for each.

I. Verbal Sexual Harassment

Verbal sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. This type of harassment can take various forms, such as sexual comments or jokes, requests for sexual favors, and sexual innuendos.

Hypothetical scenarios illustrating each type of verbal sexual harassment:

  • A male coworker repeatedly makes comments about a female coworker's appearance and asks her out on dates despite her declining each time.
  • A coworker asks another coworker about details of their sex life.
  • A male coworker frequently makes suggestive remarks to a female coworker about her body and uses sexual innuendos during work conversations.

II. Physical Sexual Harassment

Physical sexual harassment involves any form of unwanted physical contact, such as touching, grabbing, groping, kissing, or hugging without consent, and could include blocking someone's movement or trapping them in a confined space.

Hypothetical scenarios illustrating each type of physical sexual harassment:

  • A male coworker repeatedly touches a female coworker's arm or shoulder without her consent, despite her asking him to stop.
  • A supervisor hugs a female employee tightly and kisses her on the cheek, despite her attempting to pull away.
  • A male coworker blocks a female coworker from leaving a room and stands too close to her, making her feel uncomfortable.

III. Non-Verbal Sexual Harassment

Non-verbal sexual harassment involves any form of unwelcome behavior or conduct that creates a hostile or intimidating environment for an individual. This type of harassment can take various forms, such as staring or leering, displaying sexually explicit images or objects, and making sexually suggestive gestures.

Hypothetical scenarios illustrating non-verbal sexual harassment:

  • Making sexual gestures or lewd hand signals toward someone
  • Displaying sexually suggestive images or objects, such as posters or calendars, in a shared workspace or in a way that is visible to others who may find it offensive.
  • Staring at someone in a sexually suggestive way or repeatedly making sexually suggestive facial expressions toward them.

IV. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwanted sexual behavior or conduct that is linked to job benefits, such as promotions or salary increases. This form of harassment can take many forms, including requests for sexual favors in exchange for job-related advantages, warnings of negative consequences for declining sexual advances, and offers of employment benefits in return for engaging in sexual activity.

Hypothetical scenarios illustrating quid pro quo sexual harassment:

  • A supervisor tells a female employee that she needs to have sex with him to keep her job.
  • A male coworker tells a female coworker that he can get her a promotion if she goes out on a date with him.
  • A manager threatens to fire an employee if she doesn't engage in sexual activity with him.

V. Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to behavior or conduct that creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. This can take many forms, including offensive or derogatory comments or behavior based on gender, creating an environment that is intimidating or hostile, and making unwanted sexual advances or comments that interfere with someone's ability to work.

Hypothetical scenarios illustrating hostile work environment sexual harassment:

  • A male coworker constantly makes sexually explicit comments to a female coworker, making her feel uncomfortable and affecting her work.
  • A female employee is frequently subjected to lewd jokes and comments about her sexual orientation by her coworkers.
  • A group of male employees frequently watch and discuss pornography during work hours, making female coworkers feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

VI. Cyber Sexual Harassment

Cyber sexual harassment involves any form of harassment that is conducted through digital communication, such as sending sexually explicit emails, texts, or messages, sharing sexually explicit images or videos, and posting sexually explicit comments or images on social media.

Hypothetical scenarios illustrating cyber sexual harassment:

  • A male coworker sends a female coworker sexually explicit messages through the company’s messaging software.
  • An anonymous employee creates a fake social media account to post sexually explicit images and comments about a female employee.
  • A male coworker shares sexually explicit images with his coworkers on a company email chain.

VII. Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment

It's against federal and state laws for employers to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment. Retaliation can take many forms, such as termination, demotion, or being excluded from meetings or events. Employees who report sexual harassment are protected from retaliation and have legal options if they experience it.

Employees who experience retaliation after reporting sexual harassment should seek legal help right away. They can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), file a lawsuit for damages, or pursue other legal actions like arbitration or mediation.

The burden of proof in a retaliation case is lower than in a sexual harassment case. Employees only need to show that they reported sexual harassment and then suffered a negative employment action. If the employee can do this, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the negative action wasn't retaliation.

Retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal and can have serious consequences for employers. Employers must have clear policies and procedures to address retaliation and should investigate every retaliation claim and take steps to protect employees who make complaints.


If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, know that you are not alone. Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem that can have a significant impact on your mental and emotional well-being, as well as your career prospects. The sexual harassment attorneys with The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak will help you understand your legal rights and options. Employers have a legal obligation to prevent and address harassment, and employees have legal protections against retaliation for reporting it. You deserve to feel safe and respected in your workplace, and we can help you seek justice and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

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