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Expert Sexual Harassment Attorneys

Sexual Harassment Is Against The Law — Fight Back

The existence of sexual harassment in the workplace is unfortunate, because the law dictates that most employers have a legal responsibility to prevent this type of behavior. FEHA specifically requires employers to take “all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring” (Gov.C. § 12940(k))

If you were the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace you may be entitled to damages for:

What Constitutes As Sexual Harassment In California?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not always easy to objectively identify. The difference between friendliness and inappropriateness can mean different things to different people. Fortunately, there are clear signs of true offensive behavior, as well as protections in place to combat it.

Sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, includes unwanted sexual advances, requests or demands for sexual favors, and many other forms of sexually suggestive verbal or physical behaviors.

However, sexual harassment does not necessarily have to explicitly be of a sexual nature. It’s important to understand that this type of harassment includes offensive comments about a person’s sex, whether they are male or female.

In order for sexual harassment to cross the line into unlawful territory, it must be severe or frequent enough that it results in an adverse employment decision or serves to cultivate a hostile work environment for its victims.

What Laws Protect Me From Sexual Harassment at Work?

There are federal and California laws in place to protect you from sexual harassment, whether the perpetrator is a supervisor, a co-worker, or a customer or client you may be doing business with. 

California Law

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) exists to prohibit all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. FEHA protections will apply to: 

  • Employment Agencies
  • Private Employers
  • Public Employers
  • Labor Organizations
  • Employment Agencies 
  • State and Local Governments with 1 or more Employees

Federal Law

The primary federal law that prohibits all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Much like FEHA, Title VII applies to most public and private employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and also includes employer-union apprenticeship programs that have 15 or more employees.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

It is common for someone in a position of power to offer an employee either benefits or a promotion in exchange for sexual favors. This is known as quid pro quo harassment. A common example of quid pro quo harassment is when a supervisor asks an employee for sexual favors in exchange for a pay raise or a promotion. 

Another example of quid pro quo harassment is when an employer threatens an employee with an adverse action if he or she rejects their requests for sexual favors. A supervisor might give an employee an ultimatum to go out with him or her, and if the employee refuses, he or she will be disciplined or fired for rejecting the employer’s offer.

Quid pro quo harassment is a type of conduct that has the potential to adversely affect a person’s employment or unreasonably interfere with his or her work performance. It can also create a hostile or offensive work environment.

What Types Of Conduct Are Considered Sexual Harassment?

Anytime a job applicant or employee is subject to unwanted sexual advances or verbal and or visual harassment, it is likely that they have been the victim of behaviors that the Fair Employment and Housing Act define as instances of sexual harassment. 

Below are just a few examples of sexual harassment in the workplace:

Unwanted Physical Contact

If another employee is touching you and it is unwelcomed, this may be a form of sexual harassment. Some examples of unwelcome physical contact include:

  • Brushing up against someone
  • Rubbing someone’s shoulders
  • Hugging
  • Touching someone’s hair
  • Using objects to touch someone else
  • Using one’s body to block someone from entering or leaving a room

The coworker who subjects you to this physical contact may think of it as “accidental” or “harmless”, but you have the right to feel safe and free from unwelcome touching while in the workplace.

You Are Made To Feel Uncomfortable

However, there are several ways to make someone feel uncomfortable and they may have nothing to do with physical touch. Text messages, memes, videos, and emails can all easily subject someone to uncomfortable and unwelcome sexual behavior. The main issue is whether the sexual advances or behaviors are unwanted.

If you are unsure, ask yourself whether an employer or coworker is making you feel uncomfortable. If you feel uncomfortable when someone make advances towards you, this can be indicative of sexual harassment.

If you have already recognized that an employer’s behavior is making you uncomfortable, it’s important to consult with an experienced sexual discrimination lawyer as soon as possible. A sexual discrimination lawyer will help you determine whether you were the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.

What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault?

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are two different terms that people have commonly mixed around. Both actions have similarities, however they are considered different under California law.

Sexual harassment is identified as a nonconsensual sexual act that is strictly forbidden by Federal, State or other tribal laws. Sexual harassment is a criminal offense and a form of employment discrimination.

According to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), there are several types of behaviors that exhibit sexual harassment. This includes:

  • Visual behavior. Making sexual gestures is a common one. Showing sexual objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters is another action offenders typically do. If they are captivated by someone, then they will start advances or behaviors that are unwanted like leering at them.
  • Verbal behavior. When the offender notices a person of interest walking past them, they will feel obligated to use derogatory comments to get their attention. They may also have graphic verbal commentaries of the victim’s body.
  • Physical behavior. The offender will feel the need to start touching the person’s body. Other times, they would aggressively assault or block movements to prevent the individual from escaping.

Many sexual assault cases have started out from the offender being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They may also try to intoxicate the victim to have an easier time performing sexual acts on them.

Who do I report sexual harassment to?

It may not always be easy, but the first step is to be clear about how the harasser’s behavior is offensive. Say no if you are uncomfortable with any sexual propositions and firmly refuse any invitations or other forms of harassment. Make sure to put any complaints in writing and keep a copy of all communication.

Inform your direct supervisor or your Human Resources (HR) department about the harassment. As mentioned, it is always best to make any complaints in writing and keep copies of any communication throughout this process. Be very clear when you describe the problem and offer a solution for how you want the issue resolved.

It’s a good idea to first make an effort to address the harassment with your employer. In many cases, bringing up the issue with your employer may put an end to the harassment. Most employers are aware and committed to their legal responsibilities and will make an effort to keep their employees safe from harassment.

It might be possible that your internal complaint will not be resolved and may even go ignored. Even if your complaint doesn’t achieve anything and the harassment persists, your claim will still be strengthened because:

  1. You have written documentation that your employer was aware of your complaint and didn’t take any reasonable steps to investigate or stop the harassment.
  2. You can counter any argument that states you failed to take advantage of your employer’s anti-harassment policies.

The next step for an employee is to file a charge of harassment with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Filing a charge with the DFEH or EEOC is a requirement before an employee may file a lawsuit for harassment in the state of California.

In the majority of instances, a charge of harassment must be filed with the DFEH within one year of the harassment.

Can sexual harassment occur for men and women?

Sexual harassment laws apply to men and women and they explicitly prohibit all forms of sexual harassment, whether the offending behavior is directed at someone of the same or opposite gender.

I am being verbally harassed. What should I do?

Here are some tips on what you should do after being verbally harassed:

  • If you are being asked to perform inappropriate behavior, respond by saying no. If the harasser is still bothering you, try to keep track of how much this occurs. Make sure you include the date, place, what they said, and time of each encounter you have with them.
  • If the harassment is occurring within the workplace, you should ask your co-workers if they have seen or heard of anything regarding it.
  • File a report against the individual who is verbally harassing you to:
    • Your employer
    • Human resource department
    • Other departments within the company
  • As you are filing your report, it would be a good idea to have it in your writing. By doing this, you will have the opportunity to emphasize more on the problem and include important information on what happened to you. This will also record the exact date that you chose to make a complaint. Make sure that you keep copies of your written documents
  • In California, you are permitted to get a copy of your personnel file from your employer. This applies for both former and current employees. You will have the opportunity of accessing their personal documents along with other employment records, too.
  • Use the employee manual to your advantage. Check the policies and make sure you have followed it.You can also speak to a human resources department representative to get your answer. Afterwards, you must speak to your employer and notify them that you did everything stated in the handbook. The employer will know that you tried whatever you could to avoid making the problem worse.
  • File a lawsuit with either a federal or state court. You should start the sexual harassment complaint with DFEH. The EEOC is also another option to use.
  • If you experience verbal sexual harassment, you must immediately report it if it relates to pervasive or severe. Make sure you do this on time since there are legal deadlines established for particular circumstances.

According to DFEH, you are given a one year period to file a sexual harassment lawsuit. The time begins right after the initial date of the incident. If you did not know you were being sexually harassed on a specific day, but soon realized you actually were, you will be given a 1 year and 90 day period to file a lawsuit.

Does a person have to be an employee to claim for sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment may occur at any point during the employment process, from hiring to firing — this includes the interview process, and everything in between. Sexual harassment is against the law and retaliating against an employee who complains about or who participates in a sexual harassment investigation is also unlawful.

This means that an employee who has been fired for complaining about sexual harassment may have a claim, whether he or she is employed or not. Consult with an experienced sexual harassment attorney at West Coast Employment Lawyers to discuss your rights and options.

What Will Help Me Recover From My Sexual Harassment Experience?

There are many methods available to help you overcome sexual harassment. Two effective coping strategies include:

  • Expressing your thoughts and emotions. Conveying your thoughts or feelings will help you maintain your sadness, insomnia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who choose to follow this step have shown signs of happiness.reassurance, or comfort. If they are committed to making this into a routine, then they will start feeling more cheerful and optimistic.
  • Writing in a journal or diary. Take a second to collect your thoughts. Grab a writing utensil and begin jotting down what you remember from your harassment experience. Try to mention facts about what happened and how you were feeling during it. Once you complete this, follow up with an update on how you are currently feeling. You may be overwhelmed with feelings of sadness as you are writing this down, but it will help you release a load of stress. This will make you feel more calm and relaxed. If this practice did not give you a positive effect the first time, continue doing it. Some people cope with this process differently and would have to repeat it until they start noticing any good impact on their health. You should consider taking small breaks to give yourself a moment to relax your mind. Once you are ready to go, gather your thoughts again and continue expressing yourself. If you are struggling to complete this action, then it is best for you to seek support from a close friend, family member, or therapist.

What Can West Coast Employment Lawyers Do For You?

It is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The sexual harassment lawyers at WCEL have extensive experience handling sexual harassment cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.

We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a sexual harassment attorney in California, contact our office at 213-927-3700.

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