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What Are the Different Types of Sexual Harassment in California?

Our 24-hour news cycle has been dominated recently by allegations of sexual harassment and impropriety among various high-profile groups in our society. Looking at the multiple allegations against high-ranking political officials, sports stars, Hollywood moguls, and other public figures, there seems to be an uptick in sexual harassment claims today. Is this due to more harassment episodes happening across the nation, or are people simply feeling more comfortable and empowered to stand up for their rights? Let’s hope it is the latter.

woman at work with a man's hand on her shoulder

Sexual harassment doesn’t just mean inappropriate touching. There are many different types of sexual harassment that can still be grounds for a lawsuit. Can you identify the different types of sexual harassment? Understanding them and knowing how to protect yourself is important. The good news? The law is on your side.

What Are the Different Types of Sexual Harassment?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly defines sexual harassment as a form of discrimination and places it in one of two categories – either hostile work environment or Quid-Pro-Quo.

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) broadens this legal definition of sexual harassment and states that sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome conduct or advance that gets in the way of an individual’s performance on the job or creates an intimidating or hostile environment at work.

Let’s look at the two main types of harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Hostile work environment graphicHostile Work Environment

While most perpetrators of Quid-Pro-Quo harassment are supervisors or members of management, virtually anyone at work has the ability to create a negative or hostile work environment. Co-workers, vendors, third parties who happen to be at the worksite, or even occasional visitors like delivery people or couriers can create a hostile work environment through sexual harassment. Here are some broad examples of sexual harassment that can lead to a hostile work environment:

  • Repeatedly touching, grabbing or groping an individual without explicit consent from both parties
  • Using insults or disparaging sexual terms toward another person
  • Telling dirty or offensive jokes or anecdotes, even after being warned not to
  • Sending offensive correspondence, emails or pictures that contain sexually-explicit messages

A hostile work environment claim must be substantiated by several key points. The victim must think that the conduct is hostile, abusive or offensive, and they must convince a court of law that a reasonable person would think that similar conduct would be offensive in a normal work environment. Employers must remain steadfastly concerned with addressing any hostile work environment claim, lest they assume liability and blame for the outcome of the harassment event.


Quid-Pro-Quo means “this for that” in Latin and refers to a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality. When it comes to sexual harassment claims, Quid-Pro-Quo generally refers to one individual asking for sexual favors from another in exchange for job-related benefits. The perpetrator might use one of the following enticements to pressure another person at work for sexual favors:

  • A promotion or more responsibility
  • A nicer work area or office
  • Favorable shifts or work hours
  • An increase in base wages
  • Giving the individual sales that result in bonuses
  • Opportunities to travel
  • Job retention

Regardless of whether an employee decides to decline these advances, the perpetrator would be guilty of Quid-Pro-Quo sexual harassment (in addition to other possible charges) if they then terminate, demote, threaten, or harass the employee. Harassers who fall under this category can be men or women but tend to be in a position of power over the person they are allegedly harassing.

Fight Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Employers and employees alike must both be vigilant in identifying and addressing all of the different types of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment can destroy an otherwise harmonious workplace and can damage the individuals who have witnessed or participated in the event(s). Employees may become less productive, angry, withdrawn, isolated or may simply quit – which is why employers must have policies on file to ensure adequate sexual harassment awareness and prevention techniques are in place at all times.

If you or someone you know is dealing with a hostile work environment or Quid-Pro-Quo situation, it might be time to contact a qualified local employment law attorney who demonstrates a proven track record of successful outcomes in California sexual harassment law.