California law and federal law prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and they also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who complain about being sexually harassed at work. Unfortunately, there are some employers out there who do not adhere to the law, and this can discourage employees from complaining to HR when they are facing sexual harassment. Nonetheless, it is generally still a good idea to make a complaint to HR, even if just to establish that the employee complained internally to no avail. If nothing else, a complaint to HR may help another employee avoid harassment in the future.
Though not typically the case, some employees facing sexual harassment at work may feel comfortable saying something directly to their harasser. This should not be done if an employee fears that the harasser is capable of physical harm, and talking to the harasser directly would generally work better if the harasser worked at the same level as the employee whom he or she was harassing. If an employee feels comfortable talking to the harasser, the employee should identify what conduct is making him or her feel uncomfortable and ask the harasser to stop.
If talking to the harasser does not work or is not an option, the next step is to go to HR. Some employees may think it is sufficient to confide in a supervisor to whom they feel close, but if the supervisor reports the incident to HR (which he or she is probably obligated to do), an employee could be left in the dark about what was reported or whether a report was ever made.
Before going to HR, employees should compile a summary of relevant information pertaining to the sexual harassment such as what happened, when it occurred, and who was present. Employees should also document any instances of harassment at the time they occur. If going to HR does not result in appropriate action being taken, the employee may want to consult with a plaintiff-side employment law attorney.