Is Sexual Harassment Considered a Crime in California?

Is Sexual Harassment Considered a Crime in California?

Sexual harassment is usually a civil violation punishable through monetary penalties, but some actions could cross a line and make it possible to receive criminal charges in California.

People often talk about sexual harassment in the context of the work environment, but it can happen anywhere. When it happens on the job, it is usually a civil matter. However, you may wonder, is sexual harassment a crime?

Sexual Harassment Definition

Sexual harassment is unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates an uncomfortable environment. It includes advances, suggestions, and sometimes, jokes, and may relate to gender, sexual orientation, and pregnancy. Examples include:

  • Wolf whistles on the street
  • A manager asking for sexual favors in return for time off
  • A joke told by a coworker
  • Offensive comments about women made by a friend
  • A person continuously asking for a date despite already being turned down
  • A stranger flashing their naked body at you in public
  • An unsolicited image of a sexual nature sent through SMS or a company messaging platform

Is Sexual Harassment a Crime?

Sexual harassment is not usually a crime. Most of the time, it is a civil violation punishable through monetary penalties. However, some actions could cross a line and make it possible to pursue criminal charges. Under the California Penal Code, sexual harassment could become criminal if it causes severe annoyance, torment, or fear.

California Sexual Harassment Laws

2019 report showed more women than men experience sexual harassment. Females experience it more in public settings, whereas it happens to men more often in workplaces or schools.

California sexual harassment laws cover a wide range of situations. For example, California Civil Code Section 51.9 relates to situations occurring between a professional and a client.

Situations occurring in the workplace have coverage under federal law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII. State law covers it under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act in Government Code Title 2, Chapter 6, Article 1(j).

The state housing laws also cover sexual harassment relating to housing, such as landlords harassing tenants, in Government Code Title 2, Chapter 5, Article 2(f).

Generally, when harassment occurs in the workplace, it causes an investigation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Potential repercussions might include losing your job or facing disciplinary action. Situations involving professionals and housing will usually end up in civil court. But because it is a civil and not criminal matter, the accuser may need to show a loss was suffered to get compensation.

In the case harassment crosses the line into a criminal matter, it could result in a misdemeanor charge. The potential penalties under Penal Code Title 15, Chapter 2, Section 653.2 include up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Your Orange County Sexual Harassment Attorney

Securing an attorney when you are facing any type of sexual harassment charge is advisable. Understanding the law can be tricky, and your Orange County, CA, attorney will have the skills and knowledge to assist you in putting together your case.

The Law Office of Salvatore Ciulla has over 35 years of experience helping people just like you to fight against sexual harassment allegations. With a practice focusing on criminal defense, Sal Ciulla works hard for his clients, and his stellar reputation shows his dedication to winning. Contact the office today to talk about your case.


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