Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a prevalent problem within most workplaces. Despite the controversial #MeToo movement and its growing momentum, sexual harassment in the workplace has not decreased. Unfortunately, due to the sensitivity of the topic, many victims don’t come forward.

In most cases of sexual harassment, it is difficult to know what course of action to take when someone is harassing you and determining whether their action is illegal.

If you think you may be a victim of sexual harassment, the experienced attorneys of W Employment Law are here to help.

What laws protect against sexual harassment in California?

California has some of the nation’s strongest anti-harassment laws. 

Under FEHA, “harassment” on the basis of sex is illegal. This explicitly covers:

  • sexual harassment;
  • gender harassment; and
  • harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Courts generally recognize two types of sexual harassment: 

  • quid pro quo, and
  • hostile work environment. 

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning “something for something.” It occurs when a supervisor says — or even implies — that an employee must perform a sexual favor to either:

  • gain an advantage (like a promotion or raise), or
  • avoid an adverse action (like a pay cut, demotion, or termination).

A hostile work environment results from unwelcome comments or behavior that are severe and/or pervasive enough to create an abusive work environment. The offensive behaviors don’t need to be directed at you specifically in order to qualify as a hostile work environment. 

Offending conduct may be visual, verbal, or physical Examples include:

  • displaying sexual photos, cartoons, or objects
  • leering
  • making sexual gestures
  • using sexual epithets or slurs
  • making sexual jokes or commentary 
  • touching or sexual horseplay

When is your employer liable for sexual harassment in California?

For quid pro quo to qualify as so, it must involve your supervisor. For it to be considered quid pro quo, your harasser must have control over decisions about your employment.

Unlike quid pro quo, hostile work environment harassment can involve coworkers, supervisors, and even individuals who are not employed within that work environment.

The identity of your harasser affects your employer’s liability (or legal responsibility). 

Under FEHA, employers may be liable for sexual harassment by nonemployees. Nonemployees include customers, independent contractors, or clients.

What should you do if you think you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in California?

If your situation includes assault or any form of violence, immediately contact law enforcement. You can find resources for victims of sexual violence under The California Attorney General’s website.

If your situation does not include violence or assault, you should:

  • Inform HR/ your employer
  • Document everything, including screenshots of text messages or phone calls, emails, or any other form of proof, including any instance of harassment.
  • File a complaint with the DFEH and EEOC. By this point, it will be beneficial to consult a California employment attorney. Your attorney can review your options with you and guide you in meeting filing deadlines. If you need help, check out our guide on how to file claims with the DFEH.

File a Harassment Lawsuit. Once more, it is crucial to consult with an experienced employment attorney who can guide you through the process.

Can your employer retaliate against you for a sexual harassment complaint?

We understand that it is fearful of filing a complaint against your employer, primarily if you are still employed there. It is nerve-racking anticipating your employer’s reaction, along with the possible consequences of filing the complaint.

We understand the concern. However, in California, retaliation against employees who complain about sexual harassment is illegal.

Most employers are aware of the illegal nature behind their retaliation. They are aware that there is a possible cause of action against their retaliation if there is retaliation to the complaint. For example, if you were to be fire for filing a complaint, you can pursue a wrongful termination claim,

Do not let the fear of retaliation stop you from allowing sexual harassment to go noticed. It is your right, especially in California, to report sexual harassment.

Do you need a lawyer?

We understand the shattering feeling of being a victim of sexual harassment. At W Employment Law, we are here to alleviate the distress that comes along with it. It is important to remember that despite the fearfulness of filing a sexual harassment lawsuit, California has extensive laws to protect you. Although easier said than done, you are protected and do not have to remain in an abusive situation. 

Generally, it is advised to deal with a sexual harassment claim with an experienced attorney. An experienced employment attorney can aid you in:

  • Being your advocate to avoid direct contact with your employer
  • Navigate legal proceedings
  • Create powerful legal arguments
  • Enlarge the amount of compensation you may receive
  • Advise you on all of your options

At W Employment Law, we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of California employees who have been mistreated. If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment, call us at (949) 936-4001 or fill out a confidential case evaluation form today. Our consultations are always free.