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Verbal Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

September 29, 2023

The #MeToo movement has shed a lot of light on the wrongful treatment people have endured in the workplace. Even so, there are some forms of sexual harassment that today's employees may not know violate state laws. This includes verbal sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can be verbal, and it can violate California's workplace laws. If you find yourself regularly getting catcalled, cornered, or addressed inappropriately, you may be the victim of verbal sexual harassment.

Fortunately, you can take legal action against someone who verbally sexually harassed you. The California sexual harassment attorneys with Pasternak Law are here to help you get the justice you deserve.

Can Sexual Harassment Be Verbal?

There are several kinds of sexual harassment that a person can endure. While the most well-known types include physical touch, you may also find yourself contending with verbal sexual harassment. A person does not need to touch you to engage in sexual harassment. Instead, prodding questions, catcalls, and unasked-for sexual comments can all constitute sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace.

Abusers Can Use Verbal Sexual Harassment in Tandem With Other Forms of Harassment

You may not solely face verbal sexual harassment in the workplace. Some abusers, particularly those in the workplace, may also engage in physical sexual harassment.

If you find yourself contending with some combination of mistreatment, document what's happening to you. If you bring that evidence to an attorney, you may have the opportunity to hold an abuser legally accountable for the wrongs done to you.

How to Define Verbal Sexual Harassment

Verbal sexual harassment constitutes the continued use of gendered or sexual language around an unwilling party. The acting party may engage in this behavior under the guise of teasing you, or they may explicitly want to engage in some manner of sexual activity with you. In either case, if you do not consent to this treatment, it may constitute harassment in the eyes of California's civil and criminal courts.

If you're struggling with a verbal sexual harassment definition, consider turning to an experienced lawyer for guidance. An employment law professional can step in, assess your circumstances, and determine whether you can bring verbal sexual harassment charges against an offending party.

Examples of Verbal Sexual Harassment

Some of the most common types of verbal sexual harassment include the following:

  • Quid pro quo, or the exchange of sexual favors for promotions or other workplace benefits
  • The maintenance of sexually inappropriate posters, pictures, or media in the workplace
  • Pervasive flirting, winking, staring, or whistling
  • Sexual intimidation or threats
  • Spreading rumors about a person's sex life
  • Gendered comments or harassment
  • Anti-LGBTQ+ harassment or rude comments about a person's sexual orientation
  • Other behaviors fostering a toxic or hostile work environment

It can be difficult to bring forward physical evidence of verbal sexual harassment should you want to take your concerns to court. Recording someone's misconduct might put you in additional danger or even run afoul of the law. With that in mind, consider asking an employment law attorney about how you can outline the nature of your harassment. It's an attorney's job to make the process of seeking justice as straightforward and safe as possible.

Distinguishing Between a Firm Boss and Workplace Harassment

Elaborating on the power dynamic between supervisors and their employees can prove challenging. For example, your boss has the right to ask that you improve on certain projects, but they do not have the right to do so while sexually propositioning you. With that in mind, consider assessing the nature of what you believe to be harassment alongside an employment law attorney.

Our attorneys can help you specifically identify instances of workplace verbal sexual harassment. In doing so, an attorney can make sure that you have the grounds to bring your concerns either to a supervisor or a judge.

Is Workplace Verbal Sexual Harassment a Crime?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination and verbal sexual harassment in the workplace are both illegal. The state considers verbal sexual harassment to be a Level Five felony when accompanied by physical harassment or the cultivation of a hostile work environment.

That said, you, as a survivor, cannot assume criminal action against an offending abuser. Only the state can. You can, however, initiate civil litigation against the party engaging in workplace verbal sexual harassment. If you choose to file a civil claim against the offending party, you can secure compensation for the losses you've endured. You may even see the offending party fired or suspended.

What are California's Verbal Sexual Harassment Laws?

What is considered verbal sexual harassment? The state of California defines this behavior as the continual use of unwanted sexual phrases around an unwilling participant.

Both the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) are responsible for enforcing laws and regulations designed to protect employees from unwanted engagement in the workplace. The EEOC enforces federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, including sexual harassment. Meanwhile, the CRD administers and enforces the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California, a state law that offers protections against harassment and discrimination in employment. These agencies play a crucial role in upholding employees' rights to a safe and respectful work environment.

Likewise, the state encourages employers to establish anti-harassment policies. The state encourages employees and employers alike to refer to these policies in an effort to prevent verbal sexual harassment in the workplace.

How Can You React to Workplace Verbal Sexual Harassment?

If you find yourself on the receiving end of workplace verbal sexual harassment, you have an obligation to report it to a supervisor. The sooner you report your treatment to a supervisor, the sooner you can take legal action against the offending party.

In an ideal world, your supervisor would step in and help you take action against the party engaging in verbal sexual harassment. If an employer refuses to acknowledge the harassment plaguing you, you may have the right to sue your employer as well as the abusive party.

That said, reporting the verbal sexual harassment to your employer establishes a paper trail detailing the nature of your harassment and the amount of time it's been happening. You can bring that paper trail to an attorney's attention should you choose to assume legal action against a harassing party, negligent employer, or both.

How to File a Verbal Sexual Harassment Claim with California's Civil Courts

If you want to take legal action against someone who's engaged in verbal workplace sexual harassment against you, you can:

Step 1: Talk to a Lawyer

Addressing workplace verbal sexual harassment can prove tricky and even dangerous. The last thing you want to do is try to tackle it on your own. It's in your best interest to reach out to an employment law attorney either before or after you report verbal sexual harassment to your workplace supervisor. An attorney can step in and mediate conversations with that supervisor while also outlining your right to action in civil court.

Attorneys specifically work to establish space between you and an abuser. That space can allow you to find alternative work or return to your previous position without fear of continued harassment or, worse, retaliatory behaviors.

Step 2: Gather Evidence

Once you have an attorney on your side, you can start collecting evidence of an offending party's misconduct. You can:

  • Request that your coworkers contribute their testimony to your case
  • Submit emails with examples of sexual harassment
  • Call in expert witnesses to assess alleged hostility within your workplace

California is a two-party consent state, so recording an offending party in action may not be in your best interest. Let an employment law attorney advise you on the best way to gather evidence relevant to your case.

Step 3: Outline Your Desired Damages

Once you have evidence proving that a harasser has engaged in unlawful behavior, you can outline what damages you want in return for your losses. Again, you cannot initiate criminal consequences against a liable party, nor can you recommend desired consequences once the state assumes a case.

You may have the right to both economic and non-economic support following instances of workplace verbal sexual harassment. For example, if someone's verbal sexual harassment caused you to take time away from work or even quit your job, you may deserve compensation for lost wages.

More often than not, though, workplace sexual harassment cases entitle you to non-economic damages. You can demand compensation for your pain and suffering, workplace discomfort, stress, and even emotional distress. You can work with an attorney to determine which losses to integrate into your claim and how to establish those losses' value.

Step 4: Submit Your Claim Before Your Statute of Limitations Expires

California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1 serves as the statute of limitations for all personal injury cases in California. That said, there is some disagreement as to how long a person has to file a sexual harassment claim following a notable incident. The CRD claims that you have three years to bring your concerns about your treatment forward. Assembly Bill 9 recently extended that timeline.

It's with these complexities in mind that you should ask an employment law attorney what your timeline for filing a sexual harassment claim may be. Pasternak Law can help you get your claim in front of a judge before your statute of limitations expires. In doing so, an attorney can preserve your right to compensation for the wrongs done to you.

Pasternak Law Stands with You

You don't have to resign yourself to workplace verbal harassment. If you think a coworker, manager, or contractor may be breaking the law, you can turn to Pasternak Law for help. Employment law attorneys can help you bring forward evidence of a liable party's misconduct.

Pasternak Law wants to help you get justice for the wrongs done to you. You can learn more about the legal services employment law attorneys offer during an initial case evaluation with the team. Contact us and let one of our experienced sexual harassment lawyers help you overcome verbal sexual harassment.

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