You are likely at work as much as you are at home; therefore, you want a safe and comfortable environment at both locations. You have a right to work in an environment that is free from most types of discrimination, especially that which is based on your sex. State and federal laws protect you against sexual harassment at work. Unfortunately, many employers do not take appropriate measures to prevent this illegal behavior.
Sexual Harassment Defined
Sexual harassment takes many forms. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the State of California Department of Fair Employment & Housing, it may include:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Offensive remarks about a person’s sex in general
- Repetitive leering, sexual gestures, or displaying sexually suggestive pictures
- Repetitively using derogatory comments, slurs, or jokes
- Physical touching or assault
- Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
Not all uncomfortable behavior is sexual harassment. For example, simple teasing and offhand comments are not generally illegal. Sexual harassment does not involve isolated incidents that are not serious; however, when a situation is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, it is illegal.
Anyone may be the victim of sexual harassment – both men and women. Further, any person may be a harasser, including, but not limited to:
- Your supervisor
- A supervisor in another area
- Your co-worker
- A client or customer
If an employer is aware of a sexual harassment situation, even one that involves a non-employee, and does nothing about it, the employer may be liable for harm that results.
Local, State, and Federal Laws Prohibit Sexual Harassment
Employees are protected by local, state, and federal laws that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Some relevant laws include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII if a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on several personal characteristics, including sex. It also makes it illegal to retaliate in any way against someone because they file a discrimination complaint. Thus, you may not be terminated or demoted because you file a sexual harassment complaint or lawsuit.
- Fair Employment and Housing Act – This California law prohibits sex and gender harassment as well as retaliation for filing a related complaint. It encompasses a broader range of behavior than does the federal law.
- Local Laws – Many municipalities have adopted local ordinances that prohibit sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. You may even file a complaint with a local government agency first before you access help at the state and federal levels.
- Personal Injury Claims – You may file a claim for compensation under traditional tort laws for any losses that you sustain due to sexual harassment. Your harasser may have caused you to need mental healthcare, or you may have missed a significant amount of work. Although your employer should also provide benefits in such a situation, you may be able to recover from multiple parties.
- Criminal Charges – You may call the police or a victim help organization if you feel you’ve been subjected to assault, battery, or another form of criminal activity. Your employer must cooperate with any investigation, which may also be used as evidence in other complaints.
Your Employer May Be Responsible If You Were Sexually Harassed
California and federal laws enforce a duty upon employers to prohibit and take action to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers must have policies that prohibit discrimination. They must also have a system in place where employees can report sexual harassment and other illegal activities.
Once an incident is reported, employers must investigate the situation and take action. Your employer must keep a record of all complaints and investigations that have taken place regarding sexual harassment. Those records are discoverable during a government or court investigation of company policies and relevant situations.
If your employer fails to take action when sexual harassment is reported, suspected, or discovered, it may be liable for any losses you incur. You may need time off work to recover from the damaging effects of the situation. You may also need mental health or physical health treatment if you were the victim of battery. If your employer is not supportive, you may file a complaint against it with a government agency or in court.
What to Do If You’re The Victim of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If you were sexually harassed at work, report it immediately. Your employer should have a process in place to report such incidents. You may tell your supervisor, or if your supervisor was the harasser, you may report to your supervisor’s supervisor or to the company’s human resources. Some companies have an anonymous telephone reporting system.
You should fully cooperate with your employer’s investigation of the situation. Do not discuss the situation with other employees, but report anyone who witnessed the harassment. Your detailed report will help your employer during its investigation.
If your employer does not do an investigation, or if its investigation was inadequate, you may file a complaint with the EEOC, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or other local agencies. Those agencies will conduct a thorough investigation. It is important to keep in mind that you only have 180 days to file a complaint for sexual harassment with the EEOC, otherwise you may forfeit your right to make a claim.
If you were physically assaulted or battered, you should contact the police right away. You should document your injuries and seek medical treatment. Take pictures of any physical evidence (such as bruises) and obtain medical records that will be used in other investigations.
You may also file a personal injury claim against your harasser. If your employer failed to take action to prohibit or prevent sexual harassment, you may include your employer in the lawsuit. An experienced sexual harassment employment law attorney can help you with such a claim.
Sexual harassment at work claims can be complex and involve many areas of the law. A seasoned sexual harassment employment law attorney can help you navigate the legal issues while you focus on recovery. Call Schwartz Law, P.C. today at 1-888-730-0529.