What California Employees Need to Know About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has sparked the #MeToo movement, with women all over the world sharing their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal under both state and federal law.

Sexual harassment may include unwanted touching and offensive language, making promises in exchange for sexual favors, or asking questions about a person’s sexual history.

California Sexual Harassment Law

Under California law, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act bans sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Applicants, employees, independent contractors, unpaid interns, and those with which an employer has a professional relationship (such as clients and vendors) are all protected by this law.

Under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 forbids sexual harassment. This law applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

Sexual Harassment Training

It is a requirement for California employers to provide training about sexual harassment and provide employees with information about sexual harassment.

Two hours of sexual harassment prevention training is required every two years for supervisors working for employers with 50 or more employees or independent contractors.

The training must take place within six months of hire. If harassment does occur, employers must take the appropriate steps to end it or else face a potential lawsuit from the victim.

Types of Sexual Harassment in California

There are two main types of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo.

Hostile work environment

A hostile work environment occurs when an employee is subject to frequent sexual comments, advances or touching. This may include sexual jokes, displays of offensive material, asking for dates continually or impeding one’s movement. An isolated occurrence does not count as sexual harassment. The actions must be pervasive and unwanted.

Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo sexual harassment typically occurs between a manager and an employee. The manager may ask for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits, such as promotions or raises. And sometimes when the employee refuses to perform these favors, he or she could face demotions, pay decreases or even job loss.

Liability in California Sexual Harassment Cases

Employees or supervisors can cause sexual harassment. If an employee causes the sexual harassment, the employer can be held liable if the supervisors knew about it and did not take appropriate action to remedy the situation.

If the supervisor causes the sexual harassment, the employer faces strict liability under California law. However, federal law is not as strict in this regard.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows the employer to escape liability if the following situations have occurred:

  • No tangible employment actions were taken against the victim;
  • The employer reasonably tried to prevent and correct the behavior;
  • The employee did not take advantage of the opportunities available to correct the situation.

Because of these differences, it is often in harassed-employees’ best interest to file a sexual harassment claim under state law rather than federal law. Additionally, California offers victims more strict protections than federal law.

Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim in California

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and have asked the person to stop, to no avail, follow your employer’s process for filing a claim.

If your claim is against a supervisor, talk to someone else about it, such as a manager or human resources. Give the person as much information as possible, as they will need to investigate your claim. Give information about dates, times, people involved and what happened.

Know that your employer cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint. Your employer cannot demote you, lower your pay, give you a negative performance review, fire you or otherwise punish you in any way for filing a claim.

If you do receive negative action against you after filing a claim, contact a lawyer right away.

It may take time for your employer to investigate your claim, so be patient. He or she will need to interview witnesses as well as the person accused of the sexual harassment. Your employer may also need to consult with an attorney to determine whether sexual harassment actually took place.

If it has been determined that the person did sexually harass you, the employer will likely discipline him or her. A verbal warning will likely do little to correct the person’s behavior. Therefore, the offender may be moved to a different department to prevent contact with you. In some cases or the person will be fired.

Recovering Compensation for Damages in Sexual Harassment Cases

In an ideal world, your employer will take your claim seriously and work quickly to resolve it. However, if your employer does nothing and the sexual harassment continues, the environment may become so stressful that you are unable to come to work.

You may begin to suffer mental and physical effects from the harassment. You might even quit your job to find relief. In some cases, victims are wrongfully terminated after filing a valid claim.

If you have lost your job due to sexual harassment, consider a lawsuit. You could recover damages from the harassment you endured, such as mental anguish, job loss, and lost wages. A skilled employment lawyer can help you recover the compensation you deserve.

Harassed in the Workplace? Seek Legal Help

No employee should be afraid to come to work because of sexual harassment. If you are a victim of harassment, it’s important that you inform your supervisor so that the appropriate steps can be taken to remedy the situation.

If you have informed your supervisor and the harassment persists, it’s time to take the next step by seeking legal help. The Los Angeles sexual harassment attorneys at Workplace Rights Law Group LLP will fight for your rights.

Our lawyers have decades of experience handling employment law cases. Contact us today to schedule a free case review by calling (818) 844-5200.


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