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What Is Sexual Harassment At School and In The Workplace?

Sexual harassment is an expanding problem at school and in the workplace. Increased sexual violence on campus and more student disciplinary proceedings at schools, colleges, and universities show that more male students deemed responsible have filed legal bias claims (“anti-male” bias).

Attorney Keith Altman, the founder of K. Altman Law, defends students and workers against unlawful discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or denied time off from work when guaranteed by federal and state law.

What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace shares many similarities with sexual harassment at school.

Sexual harassment at work may result from a client, coworker, customer, or supervisor’s improper communications, attentions, or actions. It also includes inappropriate jokes and comments, unwanted touching, or the promise of a better job if you provide sexual favors:

  • Sexual harassment doesn’t need to be “sexual.” It may appear that someone else at work is only “teasing.”

  • Intimidating, offensive comments, especially comments made on the basis of sex, gender identity (e.g. man, woman, nonbinary, trans, intersex, etc.) or sexual orientation (e.g. straight, two-spirit, bisexual, lesbian, asexual, or gay) may be sexual harassment.

  • Sexual harassment may be directed at sex or sexuality or it may focus something else, e.g. your race or ethnic background.

  • For instance, a black or brown person may experience harassment in the workplace in a different way from their white co-worker. The black or brown worker may be the target of abusive or hostile behavior because of their race, ethnicity, or sex.

K Altman Law is here to help if you have been harassed in the workplace or at school. If someone at work has asked you to perform to go on a date or to hear their inappropriate comments about your appearance (or someone else’s), your body, or other inappropriate comments have been made at the workplace or the classroom, lab, or instructor’s office, this may be evidence of sexual harassment.

Take note that inflammatory comments, e.g. “Women are _____” or “Gay or transgender people are ______.” These comments may be examples of gender or sexually-based harassment. If another person at work makes explicit, vulgar, or offensive comments or “jokes” about sex, real or imagined sexual acts, or alludes to these acts at school or the workplace, this may be sexual harassment.

What counts as sexual harassment?

The court may consider the above examples as harassment even if the individual or individuals didn’t directly aim these offensive comments at you. For instance, if your coworkers make insults or offensive jokes or remarks about trans people in a group and you’re a trans individual, their behavior may be legally considered as harassment—even if the coworkers didn’t speak to you or specifically say your name. In addition, the court may:

  • Consider another individual’s shared or distributed communications of a sexual nature, e.g. emails, messages, or texts, as harassment.

  • Find that gossip about another person’s sex life or relationships is sexual harassment.

  • View touching of any part of another individual’s body, face, hair, or clothing, including kissing, hugging, or assault) as harassment if it’s unwanted or inappropriate.

  • Determine that certain gestures, staring, or leering of a sexual nature are sexual harassment.

  • Consider that blocking or obstructing your movement is sexual harassment.

  • Find that sharing, displaying or sending vulgar images, pictures, or pornography is sexual harassment.

Will the court care about what I think and feel if the other party says it’s okay?

Yes, courts care about what you experienced. When courts consider allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace or at school, case law shows that what you, the person who’s being harassed, thinks and feels in the situation counts.

The law does not demand that you as the victim tell the harasser or harassers to stop their behaviors at the moment you experience them. You don’t need to say anything or to tell the other party they’re acting or speaking or behaving in an inappropriate way. In the moment, you may laugh when another person’s “joke” is offensive.

You are at work or school. You may appear to “accept” another person’s touch, kiss, or hug because these attentions were unexpected or because you have concerns about the other person’s reaction if you pull away or show discomfort.

If the person sexually harassing you holds greater in the workplace, you may have logical concerns about saying anything. You may worry that saying “NO” will have adverse consequences. Your job, your work, or your grades in a course may be affected.

Your concerns are normal. However, your immediate responses to harassment do not lessen the serious nature of another person’s sexual harassment. You aren’t responsible for their behavior, words, comments, or actions at school or at work.

Do I have legal protections against sexual harassment at school or in the workplace?

Yes, sexual harassment is illegal at work or in the classroom.

Sexual harassment in the workplace as a type of sex discrimination under the law. Any type of sexual harassment is against the federal laws of the United States.

In general, federal laws apply to any employer with 15 employees or more. Your state may have laws that address companies with fewer employers. Our experienced team of sexual harassment attorneys is here to evaluate your casenow.

Sexual harassment is against U.S. law. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), it’s illegal for your employer to allow any individual to suffer sexual harassment in the workplace, regardless of gender, sex, or sexual orientation.

Clearly, sexual harassment can happen to anyone. Sometimes sexual harassment is not about “sex.” Instead, it’s about the harasser’s self-perceived power.

Sexual harassment isn’t always about sexual desire. A “straight” man may sexually harass another male. For instance, if the harasser teases or bullies another man for acting “gay” or “feminine” he may be guilty of committing sexual harassment in a court of law.

What is Title VII and how does it protect me at work?

Title VII directs and informs the employer to provide a workplace that’s harassment and discrimination-free. However, Title VII doesn’t say that it’s illegal for one party to harass another. It does inform the employer that it’s against the law for the business entity to allow harassment of any type to occur.

If the employer doesn’t stop the harassment after it’s made aware, the employer may found guilty under federal and/or state laws.

In other words, Title VII doesn’t provide the claimant to sue anyone individually unless that party is the employer.

What about retaliation? Am I protected from retaliation at school or in the workplace?

Yes, it is illegal for a co-worker, supervisor, or business owner to punish or retaliate against you when you report or speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace. It is also illegal for anyone to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment at school. You’re also protected if and when you participate in an investigation against sexual harassment.

Retaliation examples include:

  • Losing your job or getting demoted

  • Receiving fewer hours if you are paid hourly

  • Losing benefits

  • Receiving a reassignment, e.g. a change in shift, relocation, different duties or a different position

  • Requiring you to take time off from work without pay

  • Receiving pay cuts

  • Losing grants or funding in a school environment

Retaliation may be subtle. After standing up against sexual harassment or discrimination at school or in work place, retaliation get worse over time. Your coworkers may not include you in projects. You may not receive invitations to work meetings or colleagues may delete your name from communications lists.

The laws regarding sexual harassment are clear. An employer must not ignore you or retaliate after you report a matter of sexual harassment.

After you alert your boss or an HR professional or your dean about the alleged harassment, your position is on the record.

Legally, the employer must take swift action to stop the behaviors. It must investigate sexual harassment and ensure that it sexual harassment does not occur in the workplace. It must make the harassment stop without any harm to you and/or your work position. It must protect you from retaliation.

If you make a complaint about sexual harassment, tell your boss about alleged sexual harassment, or report sexual harassment to HR, or if you tell another superior other than your boss about sexual harassment, the employer must act. If the employer doesn’t act or if the matter of sexual harassment worsens after you report it, you may consider an immediate legal action. Our experienced employment attorneys will protect your rights against sexual harassment in California and any state in the United States.

I work in California. What are California sexual harassment laws?

The state of California’s sexual harassment laws provide you with even more legal protection:

  • State law in California prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) includes all California employers–even those with less than 15 employees.

  • California sexual harassment laws protect all workers, including volunteers, interns, and independent contractors. If you are discriminated against or sexually harassed in the state of California, the employer can’t argue your employment status.

  • California employers with just five employees must provide their workers with sexual harassment prevention training. All employees are required by law to receive this training every two years.

  • California employers aren’t required to merely respond to allegations of sexual harassment. They are required by state law to prevent harassment and all forms of discrimination from occurring. The employer must have a written sexual harassment policy that directs workers about how and where to report or file a complaint against it.

If you or someone you care about has concerns about sexual harassment at school or in the workplace, consult with an experienced sexual harassment and civil rights law firm now. K Altman Law protects students and workers from sexual harassment and discrimination. Call Attorney Keith Altman now at SD@kaltmanlaw.com.

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