How Do I Report Sexual Harassment If I Am Unable to Go to Upper Management in California?

Workplace sexual harassment in California continues to be an unfortunate problem. In fact, more than 5,000 individuals file workplace sexual harassment claims throughout the state every year. In many cases, sexual harassment victims are unsure of what they should do and the legal steps they should take. Victims may also feel isolated and alone. 

In California, employers have an affirmative duty to provide a work environment that is both safe and free from sexual harassment and other types of harassing behavior. If you believe you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you should have a skilled attorney representing you right away. Your lawyer can help you take appropriate legal action against your employer or other individual or entity, depending upon your circumstances, and help you obtain the result you deserve in your case. 

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of behavior. Obvious types of sexual harassment include unwanted sexual touching and rape. However, another person’s conduct need not actually rise to that level to constitute sexual harassment.  

California recognizes two separate types of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Quid pro quo harassment 
  • Hostile work environment harassment

In both situations, for the other person’s behavior to reach the level of harassment, the behavior must be unwelcome. However, if the employee is “okay” with a coworker inappropriately touching them or making remarks that are sexually suggestive, then the behavior does not amount to sexual harassment. 

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a promise or threat to provide (or withhold) an employment benefit from a victim in exchange for the victim undertaking some action for the harasser’s benefit. In some cases, the individual who does the harassing might demand favors of a sexual nature – but not necessarily sexual intercourse – to avoid some “punishment” in the workplace or to gain some benefit. For example, the harasser might agree to provide the victim with better work conditions, a promotion, or another incentive, in the event they perform the requested sexual favors. 

Hostile work environment harassment is the more common type of sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace. This type of harassment arises from unwelcome behavior based on a worker’s sex that is pervasive or severe in some way. For the behavior in question to be “unwelcome,” the worker must not want it to occur. For harassment to be “based upon a worker’s sex,” it can relate to sexual comments based upon a person’s experience or involve physical touching. Finally, for the harassment to be “pervasive or severe,” it must normally be more than trivial or sporadic.

If Reporting the Complaint to Your Employer Fails to Resolve the Problem

The first step to confronting workplace sexual harassment is to report the complaint to your employer. For example, your employer may have a human resources contact person to whom you should report instances of harassment. However, if the harassing conduct continues, you may need to take additional action.

Employers have a duty to provide their employees with a harassment-free workplace. When they are aware of the harassment and fail to take the necessary action, they may have to compensate victims for the damages that they suffered.

Consider Filing a Complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

An experienced workplace sexual harassment attorney in California can help you file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Your lawyer can assist you with submitting the necessary paperwork and helping you achieve your desired result. 

When it comes to taking legal action, it is not necessary to file a complaint with both agencies. When you file a complaint with one of the agencies, it will also be cross-filed with the other agency automatically.  

Filing a Complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)

The DFEH is responsible for protecting employees in California from discrimination that is unlawful. The DFEH will review your complaint and determine if a civil rights violation might have occurred. If so, the DFEH has the authority to pursue monetary compensation on your behalf. 

Filing a Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws on a national level. More information about filing a complaint with the EEOC can be found on their website, located here.

After you submit a complaint to the DFEH or EEOC, the agency may decide to accept your case for further evaluation. At that point, the other party will have to submit a formal response. If the response does not address your concerns – or if your employer violated state or federal law – the case will go to the legal division for mediation discussions and possibly a lawsuit. 

How Do You File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?

In California, victims of workplace sexual harassment have three legal ways of initiating a legal claim. The first two ways include filing a complaint with the DFEH or with the EEOC. A third option is for victims to file a lawsuit in the court system. 

In the event the DFEH closes your case, you have the ability to obtain a Right to Sue Letter from them. This letter states that you have completed the necessary prerequisite to filing a lawsuit in the court system. From the time you receive this letter, you have one year to submit your lawsuit. This deadline is a hard-and-fast rule, and if you submit your lawsuit to the court belatedly, the court will prevent you from recovering any monetary damages. 

A knowledgeable California employment discrimination attorney can help you file a lawsuit in court. While it may take a lawsuit several years to go to trial, most lawsuits settle long before this point. After all, if every case goes to trial, it will place an extremely high burden on judges – and on the judicial system as a whole. Moreover, if you prevail in your lawsuit, your employer must pay legal fees to your attorney for the time they spend representing you and working on your case. Your employer may also have to pay you monetary compensation for any lost earnings, emotional distress, and punitive damages that a judge or jury awards you in court. 

How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?

Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace must file their lawsuits in a timely manner. Before 2020, workplace sexual harassment victims had to file their complaints with the DFEH within one year’s time. However, according to the new law in California, sexual harassment victims have up to three years to file their complaints. In the event a victim files their claim belatedly, they may inadvertently waive their right to recover any financial compensation for the harassment that occurred. 

When Does the Clock Start Running to File a Lawsuit?

In cases where an individual alleges just a single incident involving sexual harassment in the workplace, the one-year or three-year statutory deadline to sue starts on the day when the harassment incident occurs. However, in cases where the harassment starts off slowly or continues over time, you may not have to file a lawsuit until such time as the conduct ends. Under this “continuing violation” law, individuals who experience workplace sexual harassment may be eligible to file a lawsuit even after the harassment ends. 

What You Can Do If You’re a Victim

If you are a victim of sexual harassment in your workplace, there are certain steps that you can and should take, including documenting the instances of harassment and thinking carefully before you post on social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram. 

Document the Harassment and Your Reports to the Company

When it comes time to file a claim or lawsuit arising from sexual harassment, keeping copious notes and documentation is key. Specifically, you should keep track of the dates on which the specific incidents of harassment occurred and the time of day when the incidents occurred. You should also document who caused the harassment and exactly what happened. In addition, you should keep good records of reports you made to your employer, including the dates that you spoke with the employer’s human resources department, the specific discussions you had, and the person with whom you spoke. Keeping good notes and documentation handy can help when it comes to proving that your employer knew about the ongoing harassment yet failed to take prompt remedial action.

Think Very Carefully Before Sharing Anything on Social Media

Before you post anything on social media websites about harassment in your workplace, you should remember that your employer or any other defendant can attempt to obtain your postings in an attempt to discredit your case. You should also be mindful that while any discussions with your lawyer are privileged and confidential, everyday conversations with family members, coworkers, and friends on social media are not subject to any legal protections.

Call Today for Your Free Consultation

If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment in your workplace, you have legal options available to you. A skilled California sexual harassment attorney can assist you with every aspect of your case and help you file the necessary claims – or a lawsuit in the court system – for monetary compensation.  

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