The law punishes employment discrimination and prohibits your employer from allowing harassment against its employees. This prohibition against discrimination and harassment includes sexual harassment in the workplace. If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment, you have a right to sue your harasser and the employer that enables them. At King & Siegel LLP, our skilled Oakland sexual harassment attorneys can support you through the legal process and advocate for your rights. Contact us today.
The Definition of Sexual Harassment
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 make sexual harassment at work illegal. These state and federal laws also have similar definitions of sexual harassment. There are two types of workplace sexual harassment; they are:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment – this means that your supervisor conditions your receipt of work benefits or avoidance of punishment on your acceptance of unwanted sexual advances or requests; and
- Hostile work environment sexual harassment – this means that someone in your workplace engages in unwelcome, offensive, sex-based behavior that is so severe or extensive that a reasonable person would call your work environment hostile.
Within these two types of sexual harassment, there are many variations. Regardless of the kind of sexual harassment you’ve had to endure, you have a right to financial damages and other remedies.
Sexual Harassment Examples
You might experience one or multiple forms of sexual harassment at work. And even though you might sense the hostility in workplace misconduct, some types of sexual harassment can be harder to pinpoint than others. The following are some of the ways harassers can create a hostile workplace for you and your colleagues:
- Telling offensive jokes about someone’s sex or gender;
- Displaying offensive images regarding sex or gender;
- Repeatedly asking for romantic encounters after an initial rejection;
- Making generalizations about people because of their sex or gender;
- Intruding on the personal space of others;
- Touching others without consent;
- Making offensive sexual gestures;
- Commenting on someone’s appearance or body;
- Having sexually explicit conversations;
- Requiring a subordinate employee to accept a romantic date or sexual request in exchange for work benefits;
- Using sex-based slurs or insults;
- Making offensive statements about someone’s sexuality or gender expression;
- Excluding others from work functions or projects because of their sex or gender; and
- Exposing intimate body parts in the workplace.
As you assess the behavior in your workplace, please keep in mind that sexual harassment does not have to be based on sexual desire to be illegal, and you do not have to be the target of the misconduct to be a sexual harassment victim. Your harasser also does not have to be of the opposite sex or have sexual interest in you to be liable for their behavior.
When Is Your Employer Liable?
Your employer is automatically liable for harassment from a supervisor that results in a negative work decision against you. Your employer can also be responsible for any type of sexual harassment from the following individuals:
- Clients, and
Your employer must have control over your harasser to be liable for their actions. And before your employer can be held liable for harassment that does not end in a negative work decision against you, you also need to prove that your employer should have known about the harassment, failed to properly address the harassment, and cannot prove that you unreasonably failed to use harassment complaint procedures at work. There can be a lot of gray areas when trying to prove these elements, but experienced Oakland sexual harassment lawyers know how to present your case in the most favorable light.
What to Do If You Have Been Sexually Harassed
Sexual misconduct in the workplace can quickly disorient you. However, addressing harassment can be less overwhelming when you have a clear plan of action. There are some steps to handle harassment that you can complete on your own, and there are some steps that are best handled by a skilled attorney. Let’s take a look at basic ways to tackle this issue.
Shut Your Harasser Down
When you take legal action against sexual harassment, you have to prove that the harassing conduct was unwelcome. The first way to do this is to clearly tell your harasser that you do not accept their behavior. If you can make this declaration in writing, that is often better. If the climate in your workplace makes it difficult to confront your harasser in this way, take your concerns to a trustworthy supervisor or human resources.
Gather detailed evidence of all harassing behavior as soon as it starts. This can include:
- Detailed notes of each harassing incident,
- Personnel records,
- Witness information,
- Complaint documents,
- Wage information, and
You want to make sure that you continue to gather evidence until you receive adequate resolution and redress of the problem.
File a Complaint at Work
If you fail to file an internal complaint about harassment at work, your employer might be able to deny legal responsibility for your harasser’s conduct. When harassment begins, make sure you understand your employer’s complaint procedures and use them to alert your employer about the issue. If there is no complaint procedure, lodge a formal complaint with a supervisor or human resources.
File a Government Complaint or Civil Lawsuit
If your employer does not adequately respond to your harassment complaint, you can seek protection and justice from the government. You can file a federal complaint (or charge) with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You have 180 days to file an EEOC charge, and your employer must have at least 15 employees to be liable under federal law. If you want to file a DFEH complaint, your employer can have as few as one employee, and you must file your DFEH complaint within three years.
If you prefer to file a civil lawsuit, you need to receive a notice from the EEOC or DFEH that states that you have a Right to Sue. You have 90 days to file a lawsuit after receiving an EEOC Notice of Right to Sue, and you have one year to file after receiving a DFEH Right-to-Sue notice.
If There Is Sexual Abuse or Assault, Contact Law Enforcement
If you are a survivor of sexual harassment that involves forced sexual acts, nonconsensual touching of intimate parts, or indecent exposure, your harasser might be criminally and civilly liable for their actions. We understand these sensitive issues can be incredibly difficult, but we want to remind you that you may have the right to report your harasser’s criminal acts.
Contact Our Attorneys Today
When work becomes a dangerous place, the Oakland sexual harassment attorneys at King & Siegel are here for you. We are top-rated, experienced attorneys who want to make sure you understand every step of the legal process and your rights. And you pay us only if you win. Contact us today if you need help.