Breaking the Silence: Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Breaking the Silence: Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue in today’s workplaces, affecting both men and women. It can take many forms, ranging from unwanted advances and comments to more serious forms of abuse. Unfortunately, many victims of sexual harassment are hesitant to report it for fear of retaliation or not being taken seriously.

This article will discuss the importance of breaking the silence on sexual harassment in the workplace and provide practical steps to help fight this issue.

Experiencing sexual harassment at work?

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – What It Means

In the workplace, sexual harassment is defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that negatively impacts a person’s employment, work performance, or work environment. 

Sexual harassment is a type of sexual discrimination that covers a broad range of inappropriate sexual behaviors, ranging from jokes to sexual abuse and assault. Sexual harassment victims can seek legal remedies, such as filing a claim or lawsuit, to recover compensation for physical and emotional harm.

The EEOC states that sexual harassment can manifest in various forms:

  • It can happen between any combination of genders, and the victim doesn’t have to be of the opposite sex as the harasser.
  • The harasser could be a supervisor, someone who works for the employer, a co-worker, someone in another department, or even a non-employee, such as a customer or a vendor.
  • The victim may not necessarily be the person directly harassed, but could be anyone impacted by the offensive behavior. Even if the victim doesn’t experience economic loss or get fired, sexual harassment can still be illegal.
  • The conduct of the harasser must be unwelcome.

The Aftermath of Sexual Harassment At Work

sexual harassment in the workplace

From 2018 to 2021 alone, EEOC reported that more than 27,000 individuals filed sexual harassment charges in their workplaces. Today, sexual harassment is still a pervasive and significant issue in the workplace. It continues to be a form of discrimination that can create a hostile work environment, undermines job performance, and damage an employee’s mental and physical health.

The consequences of sexual assault and harassment can be severe for both the victim and the workplace. Experiencing sexual harassment may cause the victim to show:

  • Emotional distress, anxiety, and depression
  • Physical illness
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Other psychological problems that can impact their ability to perform their job effectively

Additionally, sexual harassment can have adverse effects on the workplace. It can lower morale, reduce productivity, and lead to high rates of absenteeism and employee turnover. It can also damage the reputation of the company and lead to costly lawsuits.

Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is not only a moral imperative, but also a legal one. The obligation falls on employers to ensure that the work environment is secure and respectful and that employees are not subject to such abusive behavior.

Fight back vs sexual harassment in the workplace.

Recognizing Unlawful Sexual Conduct at Work

Sexual harassment can take many forms in the workplace, and it’s not always easy to recognize. It can be overt, such as inappropriate comments or physical contact, or more subtle, such as unwanted advances or insinuations. 

Some of the common examples of how harassment in a work environment are:

  • Making unwanted sexual advances
  • Telling sexual jokes or making comments that make a worker uncomfortable
  • Physical harassment involving touching or groping someone without their consent
  • Sending offensive messages or emails that contain sexually explicit content
  • Displaying pornography or sharing inappropriate photos, videos, or memes
  • Invading someone’s personal space or making them feel uncomfortable
  • Spreading rumors or making inappropriate remarks about someone’s sexuality or sexual desire
  • Giving unwanted gifts of a sexual or romantic nature
  • Making repeated comments about someone’s appearance or the appearance of others
  • Testing boundaries to see if someone is interested in sex
  • Creating a hostile work environment for persons based on their gender or sexuality
  • Retaliating against someone for reporting unlawful harassment

Types of Sexual Harassment

There are two types of workplace sexual harassment: hostile work environment and Quid Pro Quo.

Hostile Work Environment

Workers frequently describe their work environment as toxic or contaminated by sexual harassment and discrimination when it is hostile. If this resonates with you, know that you are not alone, as this is the most prevalent form of workplace harassment.

Hostile or offensive work environment harassment is marked by ongoing, unwanted sexual attention and may involve various forms of inappropriate behavior, including:

  • Sexual and offensive jokes
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Intimidation
  • Touching
  • Gender-based retaliation and discrimination

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo harassment, derived from a Latin phrase meaning “something for something,” takes place when an employer offers incentives to an employee in exchange for submitting to sexual advances, demands, or threatens negative job consequences if the employee declines or refuses. These incentives and threats may be either explicit or implicit.

The following are examples of workplace sexual harassment that involve quid pro quo:

  • Tom, the employer of Sarah, suggests that her promotion is dependent on her willingness to accept his sexual favors.
  • An employee named Liz is told by her boss, Michael, that he will give her a raise if she engages in sexual activity with him.
  • Jake, an employer, discusses possible layoffs with his employee, Rachel, and implies that if she reports his sexual assault to other women, she might be at risk of losing her job.
  • Joe, the employer of Emily, threatens to reduce her working hours if she refuses to go out with him.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is often depicted in movies and television, but it is less prevalent in the workplace compared to its counterpart, hostile work environment harassment.

Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is crucial to ensuring a safe and productive work environment. 

Companies should take steps to create a culture that encourages the reporting of harassment and provides support for victims. This includes developing a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that clearly defines what constitutes sexual harassment and outlines the steps for reporting incidents.

Provide sexual harassment prevention training for employees.

It is important for companies to offer regular training and bystander intervention to all employees, facilitated by a qualified trainer, to ensure they comprehend the harassment policy and possess the necessary knowledge and skills to recognize and report harassment incidents. 

Additionally, managers and supervisors must undergo specialized training to learn how to handle harassment reports effectively and conduct unbiased and thorough investigations.

Create a safe environment for reporting and investigation process.

When an incident is reported, it should be promptly and thoroughly investigated to determine the facts and take appropriate actions, which may include disciplinary action, termination, or even legal action. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center created a list of resources for organizations to use as reporting references.

Developing a sexual harassment policy.

To safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of those involved, it is crucial for companies to establish a strong policy against workplace harassment. Additionally, they must take steps to prevent retaliation against the victim or any witnesses.

Overall, addressing sexual harassment requires a proactive approach from companies to create a safe and respectful workplace for all employees. By implementing these measures, companies can help prevent sexual harassment from occurring, and create a positive work environment where everyone can thrive.

The Role of Employers in Preventing Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that can have a detrimental impact on both the victim and the workplace as a whole. It is the responsibility of employers to take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment and create a safe work environment.

Here are some of the key roles that employers can play in preventing sexual harassment:

Encouraging open communication

Employers should encourage employees to report any incidents of sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. This can be achieved by establishing clear reporting channels and providing training to all employees on how to recognize and report sexual harassment.

Additionally, the most common victims of harassment are undocumented or low-wage workers. An employer must encourage all workers to communicate their concerns without the fear of discrimination or retaliation based on gender status and gender expression.

Creating a zero-tolerance policy

Employers should develop and enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. This policy should clearly define sexual harassment, set out the procedures for reporting incidents, and outline the consequences for those found guilty of harassment. 

Holding perpetrators accountable

Employers should investigate all reports of sexual harassment and take swift action against those found to be responsible. This may include disciplinary action, up to and including termination, and potentially reporting the incident to the U.S. government agency if appropriate.

By taking these steps, employers can create a culture that prioritizes respect, safety, and accountability, and ultimately prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace.

Overcoming Barriers to Reporting Sexual Harassment

Overcoming barriers to reporting sexual harassment is critical to ensure a safe and respectful workplace. 

One of the most common barriers is the fear of retaliation, which may include being fired or experiencing negative consequences at work. Employers must create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable reporting incidents without fear of retaliation.

Another barrier is the concern of not being taken seriously. Some employees may feel that their sexual harassment complaints will be ignored or not addressed appropriately, leading them to stay silent. It’s important for employers to take all complaints seriously and conduct a thorough investigation to address any issues.

Lastly, many victims of sexual harassment may feel ashamed or embarrassed to report incidents. Employers can overcome this barrier by providing support and community resources for victims, including counseling services and a harassment reporting hotline. 

It’s crucial to create a culture where reporting harassment is encouraged and supported, and where victims are empowered to speak out without fear of judgment or reprisal.


Breaking the silence on sexual harassment is crucial for three reasons: empowering survivors to seek justice and challenge the culture of silence, preventing future incidents by creating a safe environment and holding perpetrators accountable, and promoting a culture of respect and equality that can help create a just society. 

It requires courage, but speaking up and taking action can have a profound impact on individuals and society as a whole toward a world free from harassment and discrimination.

Are you eligible to file a sexual harassment claim?

Dealing with the emotional trauma of sexual harassment from an employer or co-worker can be overwhelming, and the claims process can add to the burden. However, you do not have to navigate this process alone.

Labor Law Advocates has award-winning sexual harassment lawyers, who have several decades of combined legal experience and can assist victims of workplace sexual harassment in California.

Speak with one of our sexual harassment law experts for legal advice today.

We are available 24/7, so call us anytime at (424)-688-3632 for a FREE CONSULTATION.


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By submitting this form, I consent to receiving text messages and emails from Labor Law Advocates. I also acknowledge that contacting Labor Law Advocates through this website does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information I send is not protected by the attorney-client privilege.