California law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Your employer has a duty to protect you from unlawful harassment. Illegal sexual harassment can take two forms in California: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor asks for sexual acts in exchange for something work related. This can occur through threats of work-related consequences or through offers of work-related benefits. The offer or threat can be express or implied.


Bob tells Sandy that if she does not have sex with him, Bob will either terminate Sandy’s employment or “write up” Sandy for a false job disciplinary complaint. Bob’s attempt to extort sexual benefits makes him (and potentially his employer) liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can sometimes be found if a supervisor and employee had a previous consenting sexual relationship. Quid pro quo sexual harassment between individuals of the same sex is also under unlawful under California law.

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

Other forms of sexual harassment occur without a request, threat, or exchange of favors for sexual acts. These incidents involve a hostile work environment.

Examples of a hostile work environment include:

  • Repeatedly leering at a coworker’s breasts for several years;
  • Constantly and intentionally rubbing against a co-workers body;
  • Aggressively staring at a female worker who previously rejected a request for a date;
  • Making “jokes” that are extremely frequent, over an extended amount of time, that alter the workplace environment;
  • Consistently displaying pornographic pictures or sex toys to other employees;
  • Making sexual remarks that are not necessarily directed at a specific person; and
  • Playing sexually-oriented “pranks” on specific co-workers.

Legal Solutions for Victims of Sexual Harassment

Victims of sexual harassment have a relatively short timeline in which they must file a lawsuit. Acting quickly can preserve the victim’s rights, and increase their credibility.

Employees who are found to be the victims of sexual harassment can require the offending person and the employer to be financially responsible for any damages to them. They can potentially recover lost wages, future earnings, compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and litigation costs.

Final Thoughts

If you think you or a co-worker are the victims of sexual harassment at work, protect yourself and call the work lawyers of Smith & Lo at (310) 997‑2409 to learn more about your legal options and how you can ensure your workplace is treating you fairly.