Sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality many employees face daily. Despite shifting to work-from-home arrangements, workers still endure sexual propositions and sexual or gender-based harassment that now reaches into their homes and personal lives.
This is exactly the kind of conduct that federal and California sexual harassment laws are designed to prevent. In this post, the King & Siegel LLP team will help you understand some of the basics of California’s employment laws. We will walk you through California sexual harassment law basics and help you understand whether or not you may have a claim.
What is Considered Sexual Harassment in California?
In California, behavior that creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex or gender is considered sexual harassment. Under certain conditions, a single act can be enough to constitute sexual harassment.
There are two components to sexual harassment. First, there is an objective component. This means that a reasonable person in the employee’s shoes would find the conduct or employment circumstances offensive or hostile.
There is also a subjective component. In this case, an employee feels they personally suffered due to the harassment. Their health, emotional state, and job, or job performance were impacted by the harassing conduct.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Hostile work environment harassment is a type of workplace harassment that involves unwelcome and discriminatory conduct based on protected characteristics, such as sex or gender. This type of sexual harassment is when intimidating, offensive, or abusive workplace conduct creates a severe and pervasive hostile environment for the victim. The conduct can be verbal, physical, or visual.
Examples of conduct that can create a hostile work environment include:
- Offensive or derogatory comments or jokes about an employee’s sex or gender;
- Persistent or unwanted sexual advances or comments;
- Displaying or distributing offensive materials, like “pin-up calendars” or sending offensive photos by text or email; and
- Excluding an employee from job opportunities or advancement because of their protected characteristic.
Hostile work environment harassment is illegal under federal and state employment discrimination laws, as well as most employers’ internal policies. If you feel you have been a victim of such harassment, speak with a sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible.
Quid pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning an exchange or “one thing for another.” Therefore, quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone conditions your hiring or benefits of your employment on some kind of sexual conduct. This can range from asking for dates to outright sexual assault. A single instance of quid pro quo sexual harassment can lead to a claim under California sexual harassment laws.
Reporting Sexual Harassment Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Sexual harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the federal government considers it a form of employment discrimination. However, Title VII is a federal law that applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. This can help if you work for a larger company, but if you are experiencing workplace harassment at a small California business, Title VII offers limited, if any protection.
Reporting Sexual Harassment Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act
Thankfully, the State of California prohibits workplace sexual harassment as well. California’s robust laws prohibiting sexual harassment apply to both public and private employers of any size whatsoever. The California Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA) also protects interns, job applicants, volunteers, and freelancers from sexual harassment.
While people traditionally think of sexual harassment as a male employee harassing a female employee, sexual harassment can be between employees of any gender, or even between employees of the same sex or gender identity. California sexual harassment laws provide equal protection to all employees from sexual harassment.
What Steps Can You Take If You Are a Victim of California Sexual Harassment?
If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment, some steps you can take to help strengthen your claim include:
- Report the incident according to your company’s policies and procedures;
- Provide as much detail as possible and maintain copies of all records;
- Keep a list of all witnesses, including dates and times of any conduct they may have witnessed;
- If your employer fails to respond or their response is not satisfactory, file a report with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (DFEH);
- Do not post anything on social media about your claims, especially while any complaint is pending with the government;
- Do not erase any evidence on your phone or computer;
- Speak with an experienced sexual harassment law firm; and
- Do not wait too long to file a claim.
An experienced attorney can help you navigate these steps, especially filing a regulatory complaint with the EEOC or DFEH. Filing complaints with the right agency in the right sequence can be complicated, and an attorney can help. An attorney can also help you deal with important aspects of litigation, like discovery requests and obtaining and preserving critical evidence from your electronic devices. The employment lawyers at King & Siegel have helped hundreds of victims of sexual harassment move forward from devastating employment situations, and we would love to help you too.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, King & Siegel LLP welcomes you to call our legal team today at (213) 465-4802 for a free review of your case.
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