California Workplace Sexual Harassment FAQ

Everyone should be well-aware that sexual harassment is strictly prohibited under California and federal employment laws. Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp spread awareness about the problem, hoping to curb such harassment for employees. However, harassing conduct based on an employee’s sex continues to happen in workplaces throughout the state.

The following are some frequently asked questions about workplace sexual harassment. If you would like to discuss your particular situation and legal options, contact a California workplace sexual harassment attorney.

What is sexual harassment?

There are two types of sexual harassment under the law, and these include:

Quid pro quo – This type of sexual harassment involves someone with power or authority regarding your job making sexual advances, and then conditioning your employment on your response to those advances. The conditions might involve offering a promotion or other benefits for engaging in sexual conduct, or threatening termination or other adverse employment action for refusing to do so.

Hostile work environment – This form of harassment does not have to come from a supervisor or boss. Instead, any coworker or person involved with your employer can engage in harassing conduct that creates a hostile work environment. Such conduct might include offensive comments, jokes, emails, gestures, images, touching, or anything else related to an employee’s sex. A hostile work environment is generally not created by an isolated event, but conduct that is pervasive or offensive enough that a reasonable person would find the situation hostile or offensive.

When is an employer liable for sexual harassment?

If an employee experiences quid pro quo harassment, their employer can be held liable for the conduct and the employee’s damages, such as lost income and emotional trauma. However, in the case of a hostile work environment, the employee is required to report the conduct to their employer, and the employer has the chance to rectify the situation. If the conduct is allowed to continue, then the employer can be liable.

What is unlawful retaliation for sexual harassment complaints?

Employers should have clear policies for employees to feel comfortable reporting concerning behavior that might constitute sexual harassment. In some cases, however, an employer might take adverse action against an employee who complains of potentially harassing conduct. Such adverse action is considered to be unlawful retaliation, and might include:

  • Termination
  • Undesirable transfers
  • Reduction of hours
  • Reduction of pay
  • Demotion
  • Refusal of a deserved promotion or pay increase
  • Further harassment or mistreatment

Employees who experience sexual harassment and retaliation for complaints can hold employers liable for both types of unlawful conduct and the resulting losses.

Did I experience sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can take many forms and involve many types of conduct. Often, employees are not sure whether certain conduct is unlawful or not, and they might not know their rights in certain situations. If you are ever uncertain whether or not you experienced sexual harassment at work, you should schedule a consultation with a California workplace sexual harassment lawyer who can evaluate what happened and whether you have legal rights.

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