Defining hostile work environment with sexual harassment in California

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) defines hostile environment sexual harassment as unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex that unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Any unwanted visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature is illegal if it is severe or pervasive.

Types of sexual harassment include sexual jokes, displays of offensive material, asking for dates continually, or impeding one’s movement. 

Employers can be liable for sexual harassment even if the person commenting is not a supervisor or employee.

Employers are responsible for third-party conduct if a reasonable person would find it offensive and the employer fails to take corrective action.

Further, any affected person may have a claim, even if the conduct was not directed toward them. 

How Do I File a Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment Complaint?

If you experience an abusive workplace because of sexual harassment, start by making it clear that the conduct is unwanted. It’s a good idea to have a co-worker observe you telling the person to stop.

Further, you should document all instances of offensive behavior, including dates, times, and any witnesses. 

Your Employer

The first place to report sexual harassment is with your employer. All California employers must have an anti-harassment policy and train their employees accordingly. Before your employer can be liable for the offensive conduct, they must know of it.

It’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for making a report. In addition, government agencies usually won’t accept your complaint until you’ve exhausted the employer’s policy.

You should communicate in writing or by email or otherwise keep a record of the communication.

Department of Fair Employment and Housing

If your employer doesn’t stop the harassment, you can file a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

The DFEH will investigate your complaint and determine whether you have a valid discrimination claim against your employer. DFEH will likely require you to go through mediation with your employer before filing a lawsuit.

Also, DFEH will co-file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s important to know that while DFEH accepts complaints within three years of the last offensive conduct, EEOC has a time limit of 300 days for complaints that also fall under state law.

What Evidence Do I Need to Win My Claim?

The key to a hostile environment sexual harassment claim is documentation. To win your case, you’ll need to prove that the conduct would alter working conditions and make it more difficult for a reasonable person to do the job.

Although DFEH doesn’t require legal representation when you file a complaint, it’s a good idea to have an experienced civil rights attorney assist with your claim. 

When you contact the Workplace Rights Law Group, we’ll listen to your complaint. We understand your rights as an employee, and we’ll help you obtain evidence to support your claim.

We’ll work with you to create a custom approach for your unique situation. With offices in Riverside and Glendale, our attorneys have over 100 years of employment law experience.

If your workplace has become hostile because of sexual harassment, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free case review and let us fight for your rights.


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