What constitutes inappropriate touching in the workplace? In general, it is any touching that is done intentionally and without your consent. Some inappropriate touching is motivated by the offending party’s sexual desire. Some is not. But inappropriate touching in a work environment is illegal either way. At Boucher LLP, our experienced team of California workplace harassment attorneys safeguards the rights of mistreated employees and holds unscrupulous employers to account. 

Inappropriate Touching Is Harassment

If someone in your work environment touches you without your permission, they have likely engaged in unlawful harassment. State and federal laws define harassment as unwelcome behavior based on age (40 and older), color, disability, genetics, marital status, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or veteran status. If this unwelcome behavior is a condition for receiving work benefits or it creates a hostile work environment, it is illegal. 

Non-consensual touching is a particularly frightening subset of illegal harassment, and you have a right to initiate a legal action against your harasser and your employer for the misconduct. Do not hesitate to speak to a trustworthy supervisor and an attorney about unwanted touching at work. Even if you are unsure about what is motivating your harasser to touch you without permission, you could have a legal claim against them.   

What is considered inappropriate touching in the workplace

Unwanted Touching as a Condition of Employment

If your employer or a supervisor demands that you accept inappropriate touching at the workplace to keep your job or advance professionally, that is quid pro quo harassment. And your employer is liable for this illegal conduct if quid pro quo harassment results in an adverse employment action against you, such as: 

  • Job termination,
  • Demotion, 
  • A refusal to hire,
  • Reduced wages,
  • Exclusion from training opportunities, 
  • Denial of a promotion,
  • Reduced benefits, 
  • A job transfer,
  • A denial of benefits,
  • Exclusion from work projects, and
  • Work schedule changes.

Unwanted touching that does not result in an adverse employment action is still illegal, but you need to prove that it created a hostile work environment.

Unwanted Touching that Creates a Hostile Work Environment

Unwanted touching can be unlawful harassment if it is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would call your workplace a hostile environment. The law does not usually recognize accidental touching or an isolated incident as hostile, but it depends on the severity of the touching. 

If an individual in your workplace touches you once and they intentionally make contact with an intimate body part, or they are violent, that single incident could rise to the level of hostility. If your harasser has a pattern of making unwanted contact (violent or non-violent) with any part of your body, that can be hostile as well. Individuals should respect each other’s physical boundaries, regardless of whether they share the same limits. 

Your employer can be liable for anyone’s inappropriate touching in a work setting. Your employer can be liable for the conduct of a supervisor, non-supervisor employee, contractor, affiliate, or patron if you can prove the following: 

  • Your employer had control over the offending party;
  • Your employer knew or should have known about the inappropriate touching;
  • You did not unreasonably fail to use your employer’s procedures for correcting or preventing the touching; and
  • Your employer failed to properly address the unwanted touching. 

It is important that you immediately tell your harasser to stop the unwanted touching and file a formal grievance at work. But remember that you do not have to file a formal complaint at work if it is unreasonable. For instance, if your employer’s procedures require you to complain to the supervisor who is harassing you, it is usually not unreasonable for you to avoid filing that complaint. 

Whatever the circumstances of the inappropriate touching at work, speak to one of our experienced attorneys about your options right away. We can help you preserve your rights.  

Examples of Inappropriate Touching in the Workplace

Unwanted and unlawful contact in the workplace can happen in many ways, including: 

  • Roughhousing,
  • Contact with your intimate body parts,
  • Constant tapping,
  • Following,
  • Forced contact with your harasser’s intimate body parts, 
  • Massages, 
  • Constant poking,
  • Hugging,
  • Brushing up against you, 
  • Kissing,
  • Blocking your pathways, and
  • Sitting or standing too close.

Basically, physical touching or invasions of personal space that make you uncomfortable are inappropriate. 

Filing a Legal Action

If you have a job in a California workplace, inappropriate touching is illegal under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). You can seek redress for violations of FEHA by filing a complaint with the California Civil Rights Division (CRD). And you can hold your employer accountable for Title VII violations by filing a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

You normally have 180 days to file an EEOC complaint and three years to file a CRD complaint—you will need to file a complaint with one of these agencies before you can sue your employer in court. Please also remember that if you are a survivor of non-consensual sexual touching or violent touching, you have a right to file a criminal complaint and a civil action. We know that seeking justice after enduring workplace harassment can be intimidating, and that is why our attorneys work hard to protect and advocate for employees. 

Speak to an Attorney Today

When someone at work disrespects your physical boundaries, you should have a skilled and compassionate advocate in your corner. At Boucher LLP, our experienced legal team takes the utmost care to handle complex and sensitive workplace cases. We work to ensure our clients are empowered and receive the maximum legal relief for what they have endured. 

You do not have to process harassment alone. Your story is important to us, your healing is our priority, and your legal recovery is our mission. Please give us a call at 818-340-5400 or reach out to us online for help.