California Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws [2024 Updated]

Frank S. Clowney III

The experience of suffering sexual harassment in the workplace can be emotionally and mentally taxing. It can also lead to unfair damage to your career. You may be in fear of facing whoever is harassing you, which in turn can understandably affect your ability to carry out certain job duties. However, by understanding the California workplace sexual harassment laws, you can protect yourself from such harassment and determine whether or not to file a complaint.

Because these laws are ever-evolving, it is wise to stay up to date on any changes that occur. These laws and the legal proceedings surrounding them can oftentimes be complex and lead to added stress or feelings of being overwhelmed. Working with a dedicated sexual harassment attorney can mitigate these feelings and clear up any questions you might have when wanting to file a complaint.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in California

Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), sexual harassment in the state of California is defined as unwanted or unwelcome sexually suggestive physical or verbal moves that are directed toward a person who has a professional working relationship with the harasser.

Under this law, sexual harassment falls into two categories: either it causes a hostile work environment, or it is held under the quid quo pro category. Oftentimes, victims may have claims that fall under both categories, making it vital that they document everything that occurred and save any evidence of the harassment. Cases of quid quo pro harassment include:

  • You must have worked for the defendant, applied for a job with them, or provided them with any type of service.
  • A work condition was made out to be contingent on your reaction to any sexual requests.
  • A supervisor or another employee made sexual advances.
  • You suffered harm by the harassment.
  • The threat of a bad performance review if an employee refuses a date.
  • Being offered a raise solely on the basis of completing sexual acts with a supervisor.

A hostile work environment claim may stand if you experienced any of the following:

  • The harassment was based on your sex and was severe or pervasive enough to alter the environment of your workplace.
  • You received unwelcome sexual advances, comments, or conduct.
  • Sexually explicit calendars, posters, or art on display in the workplace that interfere with the ability to perform one’s job.
  • Touching, bumping, or brushing into another employee in an unwelcome and suggestive manner.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Sexual Harassment

Employees who find themselves subject to workplace sexual harassment often find this behavior coming from a litany of different sources. When filing a complaint, the following parties can be held liable:

  • Coworkers
  • Clients
  • Customers
  • Company owners or chief executive officers
  • Vendors
  • Independent contractors
  • Supervisors or bosses

No matter who is committing the harassment, you have the right to file a complaint not just for your own protection but also for the safety of others at your workplace.

What Damages You Can Recover in a Sexual Harassment Claim

If you find yourself facing sexual harassment in the workplace, you have the right to file a complaint and seek the recovery of certain damages. These may include:

  • Lost wages due to having to quit or take time off.
  • Any pain and suffering.
  • Mental anguish or harm to your emotional or mental well-being.
  • Loss of your reputation.
  • Attorney fees.
  • Court costs incurred.
  • Fees for expert witnesses.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may also be able to claim wrongful termination if you had to resign from your job due to a hostile work environment. In this, you can seek back pay, front pay, and benefits that you would have received if you hadn’t been forced to quit.

The court may also award punitive damages if the defendant behaved with malicious intent or subjected you to unjust treatment by a misuse of their power.


Q: What Is the Workplace Harassment Policy in California?

A: Under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace are prohibited. This policy also requires all employers in the state to take reasonable steps in order to prevent and correct any harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace. Behavior such as harassment or discrimination can be based on sex, race, religion, gender identity, sexuality, or marital status.

Q: What Qualifies as a Harassment Charge in California?

A: Behavior like stalking, threatening, harassing, hitting someone, destroying someone’s own personal property, or disturbing their peace can all qualify for a harassment charge. Workplace violence can also be described as assault and battery, stalking, or even just the threat of violence at one’s place of work.

Q: Is an Employer Liable for Harassment in California?

A: Employers can be held liable for any harassment that occurs in the workplace under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. They must take the steps necessary to prevent or correct this behavior, and if they fail to do so, they can be held liable for damages like back pay and emotional anguish.

Q: What Is Legally Considered a Hostile Work Environment in California?

A: A hostile work environment in the state can be any workplace in which an employee feels intimidated or uncomfortable because of illegal harassment, behaviors, or discrimination. This behavior can become so severe or pervasive that it causes the employee significant difficulty when it comes to performing their job.

Contact a Dedicated Sexual Harassment Attorney Today

At The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney, III, our team of dedicated attorneys is here to protect and fight for your rights as not just an employee but as a fellow human being. We are strong advocates for work environments that are safe from sexual harassment and unwelcome behavior.

If you’ve recently found yourself a victim of workplace sexual harassment, know that you’re not alone and don’t have to go through this by yourself. Contact our firm today to see how we can be of service to you. We’re here to review your case and determine the right course of action to take moving forward.