Workplace sexual harassment can come in many forms and encompassed many different actions and scenarios. State and federal laws protect employees from sexual harassment. However, proving it can be difficult and no workplace is immune to this problem.
Understanding your rights and what steps to take in these situations is extremely important. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, a California sexual harassment attorney can act as your advocate to help you bring a civil lawsuit against your perpetrator for monetary compensation.
Defining Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment does not necessarily have to involve sex or sexual acts. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) defines sexual harassment as when a person at your place of employment directs unwelcome or sexually suggestive advances to you physically, in person, or in writing. It can include behaviors such as:
- Offensive jokes or remarks
- Request for sexual favors
- Inappropriate touching
- Inappropriate gesturing
- Other physical or verbal conduct of sexual nature
Sex discrimination can occur in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, wages, and benefits. Sexual harassment most commonly involves male perpetrators and female victims, but under the law, the sex of the involved parties does not matter.
Additionally, it can come not only from a boss or supervisor, but from company policy, co-workers, subordinates, or even clients or customers. Employees themselves must be vigilant about communicating that sexual advances, favors, and other forms of sexual harassment are unwelcome and unlawful and will be reported.
Employers have a legal responsibility to educate their employees about particular policies implemented to address harassment in the workplace. As of January 1, 2020, Senate Bill 1343 will require all employers in California with 5 or more employees are required to provide sexual harassment training to all employees, including:
- 1 hour of training and education to employees in non-supervisory roles
- 2 hours of training to employees in supervisory roles
California state law prohibits two primary forms of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” sexual harassment and hostile work environment.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
When an employer makes sexual acts or favors a condition of employment, pay increases, promotions, or other benefits, courts refer to this as “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. Whether or not the employee accepts or rejects these demands does not impact the illegal nature of this behavior. If the demands are unwanted, then they are illegal.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves the explicit or implied exchange of sexual favors for benefits in the workplace that may include:
- Time off
- Not being fired
- Being hired
- More favorable working schedule or conditions
- Other benefits
Any retaliation that occurs as a consequence of the employee rejecting these advances is also illegal. To prove a quid pro quo harassment case, it must be established that there would have been a causal relationship between the refusal of the sexual favor and repercussions.
Some forms of sexual harassment become illegal because they create a hostile work environment. This occurs when behavior and conduct of a sexual nature is so severe and pervasive that an employee is prevented from performing their job. It must be shown that the sexual harassment is creating a hostile work environment because it is more than just:
- Sporadic or random
Hostile work environment cases are not limited to direct victims of this harassment in the workplace. They may also involve third-party witnesses to the harassment, for whom the harassment is so severe that it prevents them from effectively doing their job even though they are not directly involved. If you are unsure what to do next, you may ask the assistance of a sexual harassment lawyer.
In general, proving sexual harassment in the workplace can be a complex and difficult process. However, there are steps you may take to gather evidence that will ensure you have a strong case. Gathering evidence is an important step when proving sexual harassment in the workplace. Sufficient evidence may include documenting incidents, keeping a record of witnesses, and reporting the harassment to your employer.
Evidence of communications from you reporting, resisting, or objecting to sexual harassment is also relevant to show not only that the harassment was unwelcome but also that the employer was award of it. It is important to create verifiable documentation of the harassment. This means saving copies of offending emails and memos, saving offensive phone texts and messages, and taking photos or videos of inappropriate conduct or material. It also means using the company’s reporting system to report the harassment, speaking up against it with your supervisor or a higher-ranking employee, and speaking up in conferences and team huddles when harassment occurs.
Under California law, a company must treat verbal complaints of sexual harassment the same way as written complaints. However, it is recommended that you take the extra step of reporting incidents in writing regardless of whether the harasser is a supervisor or co-worker.
While every situation is different it is important to keep in mind, damages available to you will depend greatly on the specifics of your situation. Depending on the severity and the extent of the harassment you endured, you may be entitled to compensation for:
- Back pay
- Front pay
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of reputation
- Attorney fees and court costs
- Punitive damages
Sexual harassment is an all-encompassing term that can refer to many types of unprofessional behaviors in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature.
This behavior can take many forms, including:
- Sexual comments, jokes, or gestures that are offensive or inappropriate
- Unwanted touching, groping, or physical contact
- Requests for sexual favors in exchange for job benefits or to avoid negative consequences
There are two main categories of sexual harassment within the workplace.
- Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor’s request for sexual favors or other sexual conduct results in a tangible job action.
- Hostile work environment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature that is so severe or pervasive as to alter the employee’s working conditions or create an abusive work environment.
While quid pro quo harassment is relatively straightforward, hostile work environment claims may be more difficult to detect. If you believe that you have been subject to any workplace sexual harassment it is highly suggested that you contact an employment attorney.
Indirect sexual harassment, also known as subtle or covert sexual harassment, can be more challenging to prove than overt or direct harassment. However, there are steps you can take to gather evidence and build a strong case. Here are some tips on how to prove indirect sexual harassment at work:
- If you experience subtle or indirect sexual harassment at work, keep a written record, including the date, time, location, and any witnesses present. This documentation can help support your claim if you report the harassment.
- Indirect sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment. If you notice changes in your work environment, such as being excluded from meetings or receiving negative evaluations without justification, document them and how they impact your ability to do your job.
- If you witness someone else experiencing indirect sexual harassment or have colleagues who have observed the behavior towards you, speak to them and ask if they would be willing to provide a statement or testify on your behalf.
- Check your company's policies on sexual harassment to determine whether the behavior you are experiencing meets the definition of sexual harassment and what your options are for reporting it.
- Most importantly, consider consulting with a sexual harassment lawyer who can guide your legal rights and options.
Contact Shegerian & Associates to Get Help
It is not easy to handle a sexual harassment situation at work by yourself. You need the help of a qualified team of sexual harassment lawyers with significant experience and expertise. Good legal representation is critical in winning lawsuits.
Shegerian & Associates has a proven track record of standing up for the victims of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace. We have a 98 percent win rate and are fierce in defending our clients’ rights.
Don’t settle for putting up with harassment as a condition of keeping your job or advancing your career. Contact us today for a free consultation. You don’t pay anything unless we win a settlement or verdict for you.