Sexual harassment FAQs

What is sexual harassment?

State regulations define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser. The following is a partial list of prohibited behavior:

  • Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters.
  • Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs and jokes. Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual.
  • Physical conduct: touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements.
  • Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors.
  • Making or threatening retaliatory action after receiving a negative response to sexual advances.
Which employers have to provide training?

Employers with at least 50 full-, part-time or temporary employees or independent contractors must provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees once every two years. The employer must train employees within six months of their taking a position as a supervisor.

What training do employers have to provide?

Employers must provide sexual harassment prevention training in a classroom setting, through interactive E-learning, or through a live webinar. E-learning training must provide instructions on how to contact a trainer who can answer questions within two business days.

Any training must explain:

  • The definition of sexual harassment under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964;
  • The statutes and case-law prohibiting and preventing sexual harassment;
  • The types of conduct that can be sexual harassment;
  • The remedies available for victims of sexual harassment;
  • Strategies to prevent sexual harassment;
  • Supervisors’ obligation to report harassment;
  • Practical examples of harassment;
  • The limited confidentiality of the complaint process;
  • Resources for victims of sexual harassment, including to whom they should report it;
  • How employers must correct harassing behavior;
  • What to do if a supervisor is personally accused of harassment;
  • The elements of an effective anti-harassment policy and how to use it;
  • “Abusive conduct” under Government Code section 12950.1, subdivision (g)(2).

Finally, any training must include questions that assess learning, skill-building activities to assess understanding and application of content, and hypothetical scenarios about harassment with discussion questions.

Which employees do employers have to train?

Employers must train all supervisors in California. A supervisor is anyone with authority to hire, fire, assign, transfer, discipline, or reward other employees. A supervisor is also anyone with the authority to effectively recommend (but not necessarily take) these actions, if exercising that authority requires the use of independent judgment.

Who can provide sexual harassment prevention training?

There are three types of qualified trainers:

  1. Attorneys who have been members of the bar of any state for at least two years and whose practice includes employment law under the Fair Employment and Housing Act or Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964;

  2. Human resource professionals or harassment prevention consultants with at least two years of practical experience in:

    • Designing or conducting training on discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment prevention;
    • Responding to sexual harassment or other discrimination complaints;
    • Investigating sexual harassment complaints; or
    • Advising employers or employees about discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment prevention.
  3. Law school, college, or university instructors with a post-graduate degree or California teaching credential and either 20 hours of instruction about employment law under the FEHA or Title VII.

Neither DFEH nor any other state agency issues licenses or certificates validating a person’s qualifications to teach sexual harassment prevention training classes.

What should I do if I experience a sexual assault, sexual violence, or other criminal acts?

If you experience sexual harassment that rises to the level of violence or assault, you should immediately contact law enforcement. Please see the California Attorney General’s webpage on Sexual Violence at for more information about sexual violence and available resources for victims of such violence.