Sexual harassment is one of the most common sources of workplace harassment claims. It can be uncomfortable and even dangerous to work in an environment where someone is harassing you. You may have even considered leaving your job because of the difficulties that the harassment is creating for you.
If you are being harassed, it also makes it harder for you to focus on your daily job tasks. You may constantly worry about your safety or suffer from anxiety or depression because you don't know whether or not you will be able to maintain your lifestyle if you were to quit your job. You may also fear that isolated incidents of harassment may develop into something more serious.
If you experience sexual harassment at work, you probably want the behavior to stop now. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. However, you first have to determine if the harassment that you are experiencing would be considered as sexual harassment under the law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the federal law that makes sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) expressly prohibits sexual harassment.
To help you understand your rights under California law so that you can seek compensation from your employer for illegal workplace sexual harassment, here are some important things that you should know.
What Constitutes As Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual conduct that creates a hostile, offensive, or intimidating workplace environment. Any behaviors that have sexual undertones and make an employee uncomfortable are likely to be considered as sexual harassment.
The harassment may come from a coworker, manager or supervisor. An employer may even be held liable for sexual harassment in cases where the employee is being harassed by a nonemployee, such as a vendor or a customer.
Instances that are examples of sexual harassment include:
- A supervisor or manager requesting or implying that an employee must sleep with him or her in order to obtain a promotion or keep his or her current job.
- Coworkers or managers regularly tell sexually explicit jokes that make an employee feel uncomfortable.
- A coworker, manager or customer inappropriately touches an employee against his or her will.
- A manager makes sexually demeaning comments about customers to employees.
- Coworkers use sexist or demeaning terms to refer to an employee.
- Employees post sexually explicit jokes or comments in the office or on an intranet message board or project platform.
- A manager sends emails to coworkers with sexual explicit jokes or demeaning language.
In addition, sexual harassment is not limited by gender. Both men and women may experience sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may also extend into sexual-orientation harassment in instances where an individual is being harassed for perceived nonconformance with the stereotypes of his or her gender.
What Should Your Employer Do to Prevent Sexual Harassment?
Employers are required to create a workplace environment that discourages behaviors and situations that might lead to sexual harassment. Your place of employment should have a clear sexual harassment policy outlined in your employee handbook. This policy should:
- define what sexual harassment is
- state that the company has a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment
- state that violators of the policy will be disciplined or fired
- set the procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints
- state that complaint filers will not be retaliated against
- state that any sexual harassment complaints will be fully investigated, and
- outline the general procedure that the employer will follow for investigating complaints.
At least once per year, the employer should also conduct training sessions for supervisors, managers and employees about sexual harassment. Employees and management should receive separate training sessions. The employee handbook policy should also be updated yearly. Human resources should also be available to answer any questions that the employees may have about the training sessions or the employee handbook.
Additionally, the employer should also regularly monitor their workers to ensure that no sexual harassment is taking place. If a complaint is made, the employer should investigate the complaint right away and take action against the sexual harasser(s) immediately.
If your employer does not follow these guidelines for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, they are likely in violation of the law. As a result, you are entitled to seek legal action against your employer for these violations.
What Should You Do If You Believe You Have a Sexual Harassment Case?
If you are experiencing illegal sexual harassment in the workplace, you shouldn't delay seeking legal action for your claim due to fear or embarrassment. In most cases, if your employee has done very little or nothing to stop the harassment or prevent you from experiencing further sexual harassment, your employer can be legally held responsible in a court of law.
Photo credit: shutterstock.com/g/SpeedKingz