Despite the increased global consciousness spurred on by the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment and assault remain serious issues in the workplace. Countless employees of all gender and sexual identities face unlawful harassment on a daily basis. Sexual harassment at work is detrimental to everyone involved, including the targets of the harassment, the witnesses or coworkers subject to the hostile environment, and the employers or companies themselves. In order to create safe, comfortable, and productive work environments, it is vital to advocate against sexual harassment. Everyone is better off in a workplace free of harassment.

Both federal law and California employment law prohibit workplace sexual harassment. Generally, sexual harassment includes verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and motivated by an employee’s sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

There are two main forms of prohibited sexual harassment at work: hostile work environment harassment, and quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile Work Environment: The law prohibits sexual harassment that is severe or pervasive enough so as to create a hostile workplace and, or interfere with an employee’s ability to work. Harassing conduct may include unwanted sexual advances, sexual comments, lewd and offensive comments, sexual assault, physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Quid Pro Quo: The law prohibits representing participation in any sexual behavior as a condition of employment. It is unlawful for an employer to require or suggest that an employee engage in any sexual behavior as part of their job. One event of explicit or implied quid pro quo harassment is unlawful.

Sexual harassment at work impacts everyone from the target of the harassment to employer, and negatively affects the atmosphere of the workplace. Workplace sexual harassment has many negative consequences:

Emotional and Physical Distress: Victims of workplace sexual harassment frequently experience mental harm due to the harassment including anxiety, depression, sadness, and low self-esteem. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that physical and mental wellbeing are inextricably linked; victims of harassment may experience physical symptoms such as sickness or weakened immune system, changes in appetite and body weight, migraines, and difficulty sleeping.

Personal Financial Losses: Targets of workplace sexual harassment often suffer financially as a result if it’s impact on their career path. Studies have shown that well over 50% of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace leave their jobs within a two-year window, changing their career trajectory and financial plans. Victims of sexual harassment who do not elect to leave their jobs may experience other financial losses due to retaliation, forced transfer, termination, or the loss of credibility and reputation in their workplace or industry.

Decreased Productivity: When it comes to productivity, everyone is negatively affected by workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace can lead to tension, low morale, gossip, absenteeism, increased employee turnover, and general lack of productivity. Not only does this hurt each employee, but it can negatively impact business performance, business reputation, and success rates.

Financial and Reputational Damage to Employers: Sexual harassment in the workplace opens employers up to a number of negative consequences including costly lawsuits, employee turnover, and reputational harm. Companies can experience major financial and reputational damage if they are sued for sexual harassment. In addition to the damage brought by legal liability, companies may suffer if their brand becomes associated with sexual harassment; they may lose out on business or interested employees. Harassment in the workplace also fosters a hostile environment that undermines teamwork and reduces productivity.

Because of the numerous negative impacts of workplace sexual harassment, it is important that employers, managers, and human resources take necessary steps to proactively prevent harassment. Employers should explicitly spell out their anti-harassment policy in a company handbook or other company materials. Providing anti-harassment training for employees has also been shown to be a helpful tool in limiting incidents of sexual harassment at work.

Even if an employer takes proactive steps to limit harassment, harassment may still occur. It is key that the employer create a safe work environment where employees feel comfortable coming forward, and know that their complaints will be taken seriously. Coming forward as an employee can be difficult; employers should take steps to ensure that employees know how to report harassment, who to report it to, and feel comfortable reporting the harassment without fear of retaliation. It is important that employers respond to complaints of sexual harassment quickly and effectively by opening an investigation into the complaint, and taking appropriate action to address the complaint if it is found to be legitimate.

Navruz Avloni is an experienced employment attorney dedicated to holding accountable those employers that fail to protect their employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. If you are experiencing harassment in the workplace or looking for a sexual harassment lawyer, reach out to Avloni Law for a free consultation.