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What is Verbal Sexual Harassment?


The emergence of the #MeToo movement brought more visibility than ever to the wide-ranging scope and effects of sexual harassment in the workplace.

This awareness campaign helped many recognize how common sexual harassment is and the many forms it can take.

The following article will explain what verbal sexual harassment is, provide examples of the behavior, and explain how to protect yourself from this type of conduct should you ever encounter it.

What is verbal sexual harassment?

Verbal sexual harassment is a form of harassment conveyed through written or spoken words and can include:

  • Suggestive sexual comments
  • Offensive jokes
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Derogatory language

According to a study by the non-profit Stop Street Harassment, 77% of women report being victims of verbal sexual harassment.

Many cases involve a power imbalance, where the person committing the harassment is in a position of authority over the victim.

In some cases, the harassment is so severe it interferes with an employee’s ability to perform their job duties.

This can lead to lower productivity and create a hostile work environment .

What protections do Californians have from verbal sexual harassment?

Protections for employees against verbal sexual harassment are enshrined in Federal and state law.

Here are the statutes protecting individuals employed in the state of California.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Harassment of a sexual nature and other sex-based discrimination violates section 703 of Title in VII.

This means unwelcomed advances and other behaviors that are sexual in nature constitute sexual harassment if:

  • Someone explicitly or implicitly states that submission to these advances is required to earn or keep a job
  • An employee’s acceptance or rejection of sexual advances is used to make employment decisions (such as promotions or raises)
  • This conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an employee’s ability to perform or it creates a hostile work environment

California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FHEA)

According to California’s FHEA, it’s illegal for companies with more than five employees to discriminate against applicants or employees based on a protected category or retaliate against them because they’ve asserted their rights under the law.

These protections apply to victims of all forms of sexual and sex-based harassment.

California Government Code Section 12940

Under California Government Code Section 12940, an employer may be held liable for acts of harassment committed by their agents, including managers and supervisors.

Section 12940 asserts that employers have a responsibility “to take immediate and appropriate corrective action” when they receive notice of the harassment and “take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring.”

Additionally, businesses with over five employees must provide sexual harassment training to all supervisors and employees.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC is a government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination against job applicants and employees based on sex, race, color, religion, and other protected classes.

Examples of verbal sexual harassment

It can be challenging to recognize verbal sexual harassment because it comes in many forms ,and every situation is different.

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some examples of behavior that rises to the level of unlawful verbal sexual harassment:

  • Coercing someone into sexual behavior with suggestive or threatening comments
  • Making comments about a person’s physical appearance
  • Asking personal questions about a person’s sex life
  • Making derogatory comments about a person’s gender
  • Joking about sexual topics in a way that makes someone feel uncomfortable
  • Making inappropriate advances or propositions
  • Threatening a person with adverse consequences if they reject sexual advances
  • Whistling or making catcalls

What to do if you experience verbal sexual harassment

Unfortunately, statistics from the EEOC show sexual harassment cases are still on the rise in the United States.

If you experience verbal sexual harassment at work, here are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

Call out inappropriate behavior

While addressing verbal sexual harassment can be uncomfortable for many reasons, addressing it directly can help protect your mental health and help avoid future incidents.

Victims of verbal sexual harassment should clearly communicate that any inappropriate behavior is unwelcome and request that everything stop immediately.

Report verbal sexual harassment to Human Resources

Reporting unwelcome sexual harassment According to the EEOC, nearly 75% of workplace sexual harassment incidents go unreported.


Many companies have a human resources department responsible for addressing issues like sexual harassment.

File a complaint with HR and provide the details of the harassment you’ve experienced.

The HR department is required by law to investigate your claim and take immediate action to stop the harassment.

Document everything

Documenting verbal sexual harassment will create a paper trail substantiating your story should litigation become necessary.

Each record should include the following:

  • A description of the incident
  • A list of witnesses to the incident
  • The date, time, and location where the harassment occurred
  • Any actions leadership took to stop the behavior

It’s also prudent to request any phone records if the harassment occurred via phone calls or text and download any written communication (emails, Slack messages, direct messages on social media, etc.).

Take legal action

Unfortunately, not everyone takes sexual harassment as seriously as they should.

If you’ve experienced verbal sexual harassment and feel that your rights have been violated, taking legal action might be the best avenue for relief.

File a sexual harassment claim with the EEOC

If your company doesn’t take your complaint seriously or the harassment continues, you can file a sexual harassment claim with the EEOC within 180 days of the incident.

This agency will help assert your right to be free of harassment and take necessary action against your employer for failing to follow federal employment laws.

Hire a sexual harassment attorney

If you’ve experienced severe verbal sexual harassment or social or professional retaliation against you for reporting harassment, hiring an attorney is likely the best course of action.

An experienced sexual harassment attorney can help you understand your legal rights and represent your best interests in court.

Protect yourself from harassment today

If you’re a victim of verbal sexual harassment, please know you’re not alone.

Workplace sexual harassment can lead to PTSD, increased anxiety, and a hostile or offensive  work environment.

If you need representation from an experienced team of lawyers, reach out for a consultation today.


What is verbal sexual harassment?

Verbal sexual harassment is unwanted verbal or written communication of a sexual nature that makes someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work.

How long do I have to report sexual harassment in California?

Californians have one year from the date of the harassment to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

If you wish you file a complaint with the EEOC, you have 180 days from the date of the incident to file your complaint.