Sexual Harassment Outside the Workplace

This section is a supplement to the section on sexual harassment in the workplace. For a description of what sexual harassment is, and what forms it comes in, see Harassment In The Workplace.

This section describes how sexual harassment can be illegal outside the workplace.

This Section Addresses California Law.

Who Can Be Sued?

Generally, only employers can be sued for sexual harassment. For example, if a man grabs a woman's breast in a bar, that's not sexual harassment, although it may be assault and battery. However, if a woman's boss grabs her breast (and she doesn't want him to) that's probably sexual harassment.

The law has recently been changed to allow people to sue others for sexual harassment, even when the harassment isn't at the job.

The following people can be sued for sexual harassment, when they have a business, service, or professional relationship with the person they harassed:

  1. A person's physician, psychotherapist, or dentist
  2. Attorneys
  3. Marriage, family or child counselors, licensed clinical social workers, and those with a Masters Degree in Social Work (MSW)
  4. Real estate agents and real estate appraisers
  5. Accountant bankers, trust officer, financial planners and loan officers
  6. Collection services
  7. Contractors
  8. Escrow loan officers
  9. Executors, trustees, or administrator beneficiaries
  10. Landlords and property managers
  11. Teachers
  12. People who are in a relationship that is substantially similar to any of the above

The sexual harassment must occur in the context of the relationship. For example, just because a person is a doctor does not mean he can never legally sexually harass anyone. The law says that he can't sexually harass his patients. Teachers can't sexually harass their students, etc.

What Counts As Harassment?

Sexual harassment by someone in one of the positions listed above is when he or she does the following:

  1. Makes sexual advances
  2. Makes solicitations
  3. Makes sexual requests
  4. Makes demands for sexual compliance

This is generally called "quid-pro-quo" harassment. For a more detailed description, see this sub-heading under the section on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

When Is the Harassment Illegal?

Sexual harassment is illegal when there is a business, service, or professional relationship between the harasser and the victim.

Request to Stop

For the harassment to be illegal, the victim must also have made a request that the behavior stop. This means that the first request or advance is never illegal.

Inability to Leave

For the harassment to be illegal, the victim must not be able to easily terminate the relationship without tangible hardship. In other words, if the victim can just leave without any trouble, it's not illegal.

This does not mean that the victim has to be physically restrained. For example, if a person is about to undergo surgery, and her doctor harasses her, it would probably be difficult to find another without "tangible hardship." That would be expensive, and if she really needs the operation, maybe deadly! Having to find a new attorney in the middle of a case might also be a tangible hardship.

Further Information