Coyle Browne Law


Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environments

Workplace sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality that many individuals experience on a daily basis. In California, a hostile work environment is when sexual harassment is pervasive, severe, and unrelenting, causing a hostile work environment. It can take many forms, such as inappropriate comments, unwelcome touching, soliciting sexual favors, or sharing offensive jokes. These actions lead to a toxic environment that can make employees feel uncomfortable, oppressed, or even afraid to come to work.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in a Hostile Work Environment

  1. Catcalling: No matter the gender of the employee, catcalling can be considered sexual harassment. It involves unwanted comments about a person’s appearance, often of a sexual nature. 
  2. Rejection Persistency: Repeatedly asking someone out on a date after they have declined your request is not acceptable and can be considered sexual harassment. 
  3. Inappropriate Physical Gestures: Unwanted touching, groping, or any physical gesture directed towards an employee that is sexual in nature, is both illegal and considered sexual harassment.
  4. Inappropriate Comments or Jokes: This can include derogatory or offensive comments related to an individual’s gender, sex, or sexual orientation, as well as explicit jokes that make others uncomfortable. 
  5. Predatory Stalking or Surveillance: The unwarranted following or invasion of privacy of an individual, resulting in an uncomfortable and unsafe work environment. 
  6. Displaying Offensive Material: The presence of explicit images, videos, or other material in the workplace contributes to a hostile atmosphere. 
  7. Sabotaging Professional Opportunities: Intentionally undermining or harming a person’s career due to their refusal to indulge in sexual behavior.

Specifically, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity defines a hostile work environment in the following way:

The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

How to Handle a Hostile Work Environment with Sexual Harassment

If you are unfortunately subjected to a hostile work environment involving sexual harassment, here are some steps you can take:

  • Report the Incidents in Writing: Ensure that you put your experience and concerns into writing, as it effectively demonstrates that the behavior is unacceptable and unwelcome. Keep a detailed record, including dates, times, and circumstances surrounding each incident. 
  • Review Company Harassment Policy: Familiarize yourself with your organization’s policies regarding harassment and follow their reporting procedures accordingly. If a reporting structure does not exist, bring your concerns to your supervisor or Human Resources department. 
  • Resist the Urge to Quit: Avoid quitting your job immediately as it may be more challenging to prove that your employer was aware of the harassment. It may also limit any potential legal damages or compensation you might be entitled to receive afterward.

Employer Liability – Victim Must Prove Negligence

It is critical to note that anyone in the workplace can be liable for hostile work environment harassment, including supervisors, co-workers, contractors, clients, and customers.

When an individual other than a supervisor is found guilty of harassment, an employer is only held liable if they behaved negligently. For example, failing to adequately address an employee’s complaint of harassment or allowing the behavior to continue might suggest negligence on the employer’s part. 

A hostile work environment with sexual harassment should never be tolerated. It is important to recognize the different forms it may take and be proactive in addressing any instances where it occurs. If you need help, contact the San Diego sexual harassment attorneys with Browne Employment Lawyers to schedule a free consultation. 

More from the blog


Free consultation by a lawyer. If we can take your case, there are no up front costs or fees.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.