Can Sexual Harassment Mean “Unwanted Attention?”

Can Sexual Harassment Mean “Unwanted Attention?”

unwanted attention harassment lawyer in california

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (FDEH) defines sexual harassment as:

Unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

The FDEH and Office of the California Attorney General add a few additional caveats to this definition, such as:

  • The employee can be of any sex.
  • The victim or harasser can be of any gender.
  • The victim and harasser do not necessarily have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The offensive conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire.
  • The offensive conduct may be based upon an employee’s actual or perceived sex or gender-identity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and/or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Where Sexual Harassment Can Take Place

The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) site points out that sexual harassment can occur in many different locations and can still qualify as “workplace harassment.” For example, the following venues are often where “unwanted attention” can transpire:

  • Colleges
  • Schools
  • Factories
  • Acting venues
  • Music venues, and many more

Examples of Unwanted Attention

Despite the many different definitions of unwanted attention, most agree that harassment includes unwanted advances that become severe or pervasive after the victim has made clear that he or she finds the advances offensive.

Report this conduct if you experience it. As noted by the Office of the Attorney General, “failure to report the conduct in any way may impact your ability to further pursue remedies against your employer.”

“It is the unwanted nature of the conduct that distinguishes sexual harassment from friendly behavior, which is welcome and mutual,” writes the Stop Violence Against Women website.

Robin Phillips, who authored Violence in the Workplace: Sexual Harassment in Women and International Human Rights Law, says that the “welcomeness” concept is much criticized by legal experts in the United States since this approach results in litigation that targets:

[a woman’s] personal life, her dress, her speech, and even her choice of lunch companions—rather than the perpetrator’s inappropriate conduct.”

How Prevalent Is Workplace Harassment?

According to FDEH, seven percent of the workplace discrimination complaints the department received in 2017 related to sexual harassment. Another eleven percent related to sex or gender discrimination. These percentages have not changed from the previous year, though both categories of sex-related discrimination had risen in real number terms, suggesting an increase in either harassing/discriminating behavior, or possibly an increase in the rates at which victims reported the conduct.

Still, many incidents of workplace sexual harassment go unreported, because instead of complaining to FDEH, workers instead choose to:

  • Avoid the harasser
  • Deny or downplay the situation
  • Attempt to ignore the harassment
  • Forget or endure the behavior
  • Turn to family, friends, and fellow workers for support

About 70 percent of people who experienced harassment have never talked to a manager, supervisor, or union representative about the conduct of the harasser.

Why Employers Should Stop and Prevent Harassment

The first and most obvious reason to stop harassment in the workplace is that it is wrong and illegal. Just a few of the repercussions from enduring unwanted attention in the workplace are:

  • Psychological effects
  • Physical maladies
  • Occupational setbacks
  • Economic consequences

Employers should also know that stopping harassment makes good business sense. A company could face financial costs associated with:

  • Employee time spent not working
  • Evaporating energy for focusing
  • Diverted resources for legal representation, settlements, litigation, court awards, and damages

Business leaders must understand that backers, investors, insurance companies, and customers who witness harassment, or the results on the staff because of the harassment, will lose faith in the enterprise. The organizational effects on a business can include drops in revenue, decreased performance, lessened productivity, increased employee turnover, and a ruined reputation.

What Can a Victim Do?

A victim who begins to experience depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, insomnia, or any other physical or mental injuries caused by sexual harassment should see a physician or counselor as soon as possible.

The most useful thing to do after that, in most cases, is to contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney with a background in sexual harassment personal injury claims. Sexual harassment laws are complex and tricky to navigate. A highly recommended attorney will know exactly what to do to advance your case.

With the help and advice of an attorney, the victim may decide to report the case to a supervisor or manager. The attorney may also advise filing a complaint with an administrative agency such as the FDEH. The agency will decide whether the government should take action, and if the victim can proceed with legal action.

Survivors can use the civil justice system to determine whether an offender or a third party is liable for the injuries the victim sustained because of the harassment. In some instances, a harasser or their employer may have to pay the victim, or his or her family, monetary damages.

To protect their rights, however, victims should always consult an experienced sexual harassment lawyer before taking any action.