Sexual harassment, lewd comments, and suggestive actions in the workplace are usually inappropriate, but they are not always illegal. In the past few years, society has begun to crack down on workplace sexual harassment, and more and more cases are reported publicly. Many of these cases involve things that are rude or violative, but some may also include behavior that is illegal and constitutes a criminal offense. If you were charged with or accused of harassment in the workplace, consider talking to one of our Ventura, CA sexual assault lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today. Read on to learn more about when sexual harassment at work can become a full-fledged crime.

Is Sexual Harassment a Crime?

Many terms are used in the news and in popular discourse to discuss wrongful actions of a sexual nature. Clear terms like “rape” even have difficult definitions, since each state’s definition of the term might change. However, “sexual harassment” is a relatively clear term that makes it distinct from things like “sexual assault” or “workplace misconduct.”

Workplace misconduct has become a common name for sexual harassment and other wrongful sex-related conduct in the workplace, but this term is broad and could conceivably cover more than just sex-related harassment. In contrast, “sexual assault” is a harsher term that usually refers to touching or attacking someone in a sexual way. The far end of the spectrum with these terms is rape, which, in California, is the crime of sexually penetrating someone without consent.

Sexual harassment generally refers to suggestive or rude comments and actions that involve unwanted sexual advances. This term is more specific than “workplace misconduct” and has a concrete definition, unlike “sexual assault.”

By itself, sexual harassment may be illegal in that it violates employment law for a boss or supervisor to sexually harass an employee, but sexual harassment is not usually a crime like sexual assault or rape.

When is Sexual Harassment a Criminal Offense?

Sometimes, sexual harassment becomes more than mere words that bother a co-worker or make them feel uncomfortable. In these cases, sexual harassment might overlap with crimes like sexual assault, and become a full-fledged offense.

There are two common types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment refers to a situation where a supervisor or employer requests sexual favors in exchange for giving or avoiding something work-related. For instance, a boss offering a raise in exchange for sex would be a clear example of quid pro quo harassment. Hostile work environment sexual harassment refers to a situation where an employee feels unsafe or threatened by the environment at work. This can come from words, actions, or physical assaults and violence that occur in the workplace related to the employee’s sex.

Forcing someone into sexual situations often means that there is no true consent given in those situations. Especially when threats are involved, this may constitute sexual battery under Penal Code § 243.4 or rape under Penal Code § 261:

  • Sexual battery is the main “sexual assault” crime in CA, and it makes it illegal to touch someone in a sexual way without their consent, whether over or under the clothing.
  • Rape is a similar offense where there is sexual penetration without the victim’s consent. Specific portions of the rape statute make it illegal to use “duress” to force the person “to perform an act which otherwise would not have been performed, or acquiesce in an act which one otherwise would not have submitted.”

Any time that quid pro quo sexual harassment leads to sexual touching or sexual activity without the victim’s full consent, it could be charged as sexual battery or rape.

Instances of hostile work environment sexual harassment could also amount to crimes. If the comments are simply rude and uncalled-for, they may not be illegal. However, any physical intimidation could be charged as assault. Sometimes workplace sexual harassment can become violent, and whether there is any violent contact made, assault laws might apply. If the actor physically strikes the victim, battery charges might also apply.

If the actor touches or gropes a sexual harassment victim, that could be charged as sexual assault. Even something as minor as slapping a co-worker on the rear could be charged as sexual battery as discussed above. This statute specifically includes terms in its definition so that sexual touching of the buttocks over the clothing would qualify as a crime.

Situations involving workplace harassment or repeated contact could also amount to the crime of harassment or stalking. These crimes can often lead to restraining orders and protective orders to prevent the defendant from contacting the victim, as well as criminal penalties.

Ventura Criminal Defense Lawyer Offering Free Consultations

While not every instance of workplace sexual harassment results in criminal charges, some situations are serious enough to warrant arrest and criminal filings. If you have been accused of sexual harassment, forcing a co-worker into sexual situations, or sexually touching an employee at work, contact our Ventura criminal defense lawyers today at (805) 643-5555. Our attorneys offer free, confidential legal consultations.