Sexual harassment is strictly prohibited in the workplace under federal and California state laws. While every employer should know about unlawful harassment and take steps to prevent it, this type of unlawful conduct still happens on a regular basis. There are two instances in which employees can take legal action against their employers for sexual harassment:
- A boss or someone with authority over your job requests sexual conduct and states that your response will impact your job. For instance, if you refuse to engage in sexual activity, they will terminate your employment, or if you agree, they offer you a pay raise or promotion.
- Coworkers or others at work engage in harassing conduct that is pervasive or offensive enough to create a hostile work environment. If you report the issue to your employer and the company allows the harassment and hostile work environment to continue, you have a cause of action for sexual harassment.
If you have the right to take action to hold your employer liable for sexual harassment, what legal relief can you seek under the law?
Common Damages in Sexual Harassment Claims
A claim for sexual harassment should seek to remedy the harm you suffered due to the unlawful conduct. It can also request that the employer take certain steps to reduce the chances of harassment occurring in the future. Examples of common damages in these cases include the following:
Reinstatement of your job – In some situations, an employee feels like their only option to stop the harassment is to quit their job. This is referred to as constructive discharge and is considered to be a type of wrongful termination. You also might have been fired in unlawful retaliation for complaining of sexual harassment. You can seek reinstatement as part of your claim.
Back pay, pay raise, or promotion – If you quit your job or lost out on a pay increase or promotion as a result of sexual harassment, you can request the wages you would have earned as part of your claim.
Emotional distress – Being the victim of sexual harassment can be a traumatizing experience, and many people need psychological treatment or therapy to recover from the trauma. You can seek damages for emotional distress you suffered, as well as the costs of treatment.
Updated policies of the employer – You can request that your employer makes changes and updates to anti-sexual harassment policies, which can include training, handbooks, and disciplinary action against harassers. This helps to prevent the same conduct from being repeated in the future.
Attorney’s fees and expenses – If your claim is successful, the court can award you reasonable attorney’s fees and compensation for the expenses of your case, which might include payment for expert witnesses.
Punitive damages – In rare instances, sexual harassment victims might be awarded punitive damages as part of their relief. Punitive damages do not relate to your losses, but instead are intended to punish the employer for egregious conduct. This happens if the court finds the employer acted maliciously or recklessly in regard to the harassment, or if the employer engaged in fraud, oppression, or malice. Punitive damages are limited, based on the size of the employer.
To get an idea of what damages might be available in your sexual harassment case, discuss your specific situation with an experienced California workplace sexual harassment attorney.