What Is Visual Sexual Harassment?

Most people picture physical touching or quid pro quo – this for that – when they hear “sexual harassment.” A workplace environment can have many different forms of sexual harassment, however, including visual sexual harassment. If you are experiencing any type of unwelcome physical, verbal or visual sexual conduct at work, learn how to stand up for your rights.

Definition & Examples

Visual sexual harassment is any unwanted, nonconsensual exposure of sex organs, sexual images or sexually inappropriate gestures at work. Visual sexual harassment often goes hand-in-hand with other types of harassment; however, it does not have to involve physical touching or verbal sexual harassment. Forcing someone to view sexually offensive or insulting visuals or images is enough to constitute sexual harassment.

The most obvious example of visual sexual harassment is exposing oneself to someone else at work. However, many actions fulfill the definition of visual sexual harassment:

  • Exposing one’s genitals (or a female’s breasts) at work
  • Drawing a sexually inappropriate cartoon of a coworker
  • Posting sexual cartoons or pictures in the workplace
  • Sending unsolicited emails or text messages with sexually explicit materials
  • Downloading pornographic material onto a work computer
  • Showing a coworker a sexually inappropriate video
  • Making lewd gestures or facial expressions

An action or behavior at work is visual sexual harassment if it is sexual in nature, unwelcome, and offensive or insulting. If you are unsure whether something counts as visual sexual harassment in the workplace, talk to your Human Resources Department about the incident. Write down a description of what happened and who was involved for your own notes, as well.

Creation of a Hostile Work Environment

Workers are protected from visual sexual harassment under multiple state and federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. For the most part, these laws protect against hostile work environments, meaning the sexual harassment incident must be severe or pervasive enough to create an environment where the worker does not feel safe or cannot perform his or her job. If the incident only occurred once and was not severe, therefore, you may not be able to file a sexual harassment claim.

If a coworker or employer’s visual sexual harassment behaviors are severe or persistent enough to create a hostile work environment, you have legal options. First, you can request corrective action from your employer. Go to HR to file an official sexual harassment complaint. Your workplace should have protocols in place to remedy the situation, such as reinforcing anti-sexual harassment rules at work. If you go to HR, write down the name of the person you spoke to and how he or she addressed the issue.

If your employer does not remedy the problem, you can go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to file an official sexual harassment claim. The EEOC will investigate your workplace, often by sending an agent to go there in person and determine if your complaint is valid. If it is, the EEOC can take action against your employer, such as by requiring policy changes or fining the company. The EEOC can also grant you the right to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer.

Get Help from an LA Sexual Harassment Lawyer

If you are experiencing visual sexual harassment at work, protect yourself by consulting with a Los Angeles sexual harassment attorney for legal advice. An attorney can investigate your case, help you gather evidence of visual sexual harassment and file a lawsuit against your employer, if applicable. An attorney can help you pursue justice and compensation for your related damages, such as lost wages or emotional distress. Call (888) 278-7878 to request a free consultation at Mathew & George today.