In many cases, sexual harassment is overt and obvious, and the abuser has directed their actions, behavior, or verbal abuse specifically towards one person. In these cases, the victim of sexual harassment has a clear legal right to pursue charges regarding the fact they suffered direct sexual harassment and abuse especially when the abuser is the Supervisor. Nonetheless, under California law, a victim of sexual harassment has the obligation to avoid the consequences of further sexual harassment by reporting that harassment to his or her employer. It is best that the report be in writing and set forth clearly the conduct which constituted the harassment and the request that the employer take appropriate corrective action to be taken promptly.
However, there are some cases in which sexual harassment can occur indirectly. These cases may appear less noticeable, and more subtle, but the victims still suffer consequences either emotionally or physically. In these situations, too, it is important for the employee to inform his or her employer, by using the appropriate avenue which is usually set forth in an employee handbook or other work policy document.
The following are the 8 ways that sexual harassment can occur indirectly in the workplace.
Before explaining the 8 types of indirect sexual harassment, it is important to establish the definition of sexual harassment according to federal and state laws, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advances or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Indirect sexual harassment occurs when a secondary victim has been offended by the verbal or visual sexual misconduct of another.
Overhearing an Inappropriate Joke or Comment
If you are an employee that overhears a lewd or sexually graphic joke or comment, you are a victim of sexual harassment, even if the joke was not directed at you, and you were never intended to hear it. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their workplace is free from sexual harassment, and therefore, even if you were not the intended recipient of the comment or joke, you should not have had to witness or overhear it.
Seeing an Inappropriate E-mail or Letter
If you were the unintended recipient of an e-mail that included any nudity, sexual comments, or any sexually charged material, either related or not related to anyone in the workplace, you are a victim of sexual harassment. Even if the recipient never intended for you to open their e-mail, or you saw a letter inadvertently, you should never have to endure any type of uncomfortable or unwelcome sexual written or visual material in the workplace.
Seeing an Inappropriate Poster
If an employee or manager makes the decision to post either a picture or joke that is sexually inappropriate in their office cubicle, on their desk or in their office, you should not have to suffer from the aftermath of seeing such an inappropriate piece of material in the workplace. Your employer should ensure that your workplace is free from any kind of visual or written sexual material that could be construed as sexual harassment towards those who inadvertently see it.
The law is clear that obscene and sexually vulgar gestures rise to the level of sexual harassment. If you see or hear any obscene gestures or sounds made by any employee or manager in your office, you are a victim of sexual harassment.
Discussion of Sexual Activity
You have the right to work in an environment free of offensive or intimidating conversations. If your co-workers, one co-worker, or a manager consistently talks to others about sexual activity or their sexual interests, even if you are not the person they intended to have a conversation with, you are a victim of sexual harassment. It is important to make it clear in a direct way that such conversation is not welcome in the vicinity of your workplace.
Commenting on Other Employees
In some cases, an employee may overhear a sexually charged epithet, slur or comment regarding another employee’s body, or degrading words used to describe another employee. While the witness was not likely ever intended to overhear this name-calling or sexually charged comments, they are a victim of sexual harassment by having to endure unwanted sexual comments in the workplace.
Witnessing the Sexual Harassment of Another Employee
Possibly one of the most egregious and serious cases of indirect sexual harassment is when one employee witnesses the sexual harassment of another employee. Witnessing the sexual harassment of another person can make the witness feel uncomfortable and harassed themselves, as well as fearful for their own safety. They may wonder whether or not they will also be the victim of sexual harassment. Additionally, they may feel afraid that the harasser will discover that they overheard the incident, become more anxious and afraid in the workplace.
Sexual Harassment by Third Parties
Under California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act, employers have the obligation to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment by third party customers, clients, vendors or other individuals employees have to come into contact with as part of their job. If you are harassed by a third party on the job, inform your employer in writing of the harassment so the employer can take reasonable steps to stop the harassment. If the harassment does not stop or if you are retaliated against, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer.
Laws Governing Sexual Harassment in California
California is governed by three sets of laws that address sexual harassment in the workplace include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Fair Employment and Housing Act (called “FEHA”) and the California Constitution. Additionally, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) specifically defines harassment in the form of verbal abuse as any conduct that is unwelcome based on identifying factors such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
You may feel you do not have as strong of a claim regarding sexual harassment if you were not the original target of the sexual conduct or verbal abuse but rather were indirectly affected by the sexual harassment. Make no mistake that you have the legal right to a work environment free from any type of sexual assault, hostility, and harassment, even if it was not directed at you specifically.
Essentially, if you feel uncomfortable, violated, harassed, threatened, or afraid due to the unwelcome behavior of a person in the office regarding their verbal or physical sexual behavior, even if it is directed at another person, you absolutely have the legal right to file a sexual harassment claim.
Contact V. James DeSimone Law at 310-693-5561 and visit with one of our experienced attorneys today if you feel you have been the victim of verbal abuse at work due to indirect sexual harassment. You have several legal options, both at the employer level, and the federal or state level, and oftentimes the different choices can seem overwhelming. The decision to file a claim for any type of sexual harassment in the workplace can involve complicated and complex legal strategies. If your case qualifies after a brief intake with our team and/or filling out an intake form, our experienced lawyers offer a free consultation to discuss your case of sexual harassment in the workplace.