The last place you should have to worry about harassment is at your job. Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace is all too common. If you’re being harassed at work, you may be wondering if you can sue your employer.
Short of filing a lawsuit against your employer, you can also obtain a settlement out of court with the help of an experienced employment attorney.
Harassment at the Workplace – What It Means and What You Can Do About It
California’s labor laws provide broad protection against harassing conduct directed at employees in the workplace. The laws operate on the basis that every worker deserves to enjoy a workplace that is safe and free from unlawful conditions.
It is illegal to direct negative, inappropriate or threatening conduct at a worker based on certain protected characteristics, including their age, race or sex. Employees who are targeted for behavior of this nature may have a right to seek compensation for the harm done to them.
Workplace harassment can take many forms and can be motivated by all sorts of behavior or beliefs including bigotry, meanness or personal gratification. But it is not all types of unfair, inappropriate or mean behavior that amounts to workplace harassment. This is why it is important to understand what amounts to harassment under CA law and the rights of employees against harassing conduct.
What is harassment in California?
Workplace harassment refers to unlawful conduct that targets an employee based on their protected characteristics. They include threats, unwanted touching, inappropriate comments or jokes, targeted at a protected individual, that:
- Disturbs their emotional tranquility at work;
- Affects their ability to perform their job; or
Workplace harassment is prohibited under various federal and California laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination Act also prohibit workplace harassment in California. FEHA provides the broadest protection for employees against harassment in California workplaces. It applies to all private, state and local employers in the state.
If you have or are currently being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, you may want to consider taking legal action against your employer. You may be entitled to significant damages, including lost wages and emotional distress damages.
An experienced California sexual harassment attorney can help you determine if you have a claim against your employer and who may be held liable for the sexual harassment that you’ve suffered.
What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
In short, sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome sexual advances or conduct in the workplace. The advances or conduct can be verbal, physical, or visual. It can also be written, such as in emails or text messages. One example of this may be if a coworker makes sexual comments in the open resulting in others around them becoming uncomfortabe. Another example could be when a group of employees engage in behavior which makes the workplace sexually charged or uncessaryily uncomofortable because of their gender.
Sexual harassment doesn’t necessarily have to be directed at the victim. It can also occur when an individual creates a hostile work environment by making offensive comments or displaying offensive materials.
Under California law, there are two types of sexual harassment in the workplace: Quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
This type of sexual harassment occurs when an employer or someone in a position of power over the victim, such as a supervisor, manager, or agent, requests sexual favors in exchange for a job benefit or to avoid some type of negative action.
For example, an employer may tell an employee that she will receive a promotion if she goes on a date with him. Alternatively, an employer may threaten to fire an employee if she refuses his sexual advances.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is relatively easy to prove. All that is required is that the victim show that she was subject to unwelcome sexual advances or conduct and that a job benefit was offered in exchange for submitting to the advances or conduct.
When does favoritism become harassment?
Just like discrimination, favoritism may amount to workplace harassment when it is based on illegal reasons. The law does not prevent an employer from having favorites. But favoritism is disallowed where it helps create a hostile or abusive work environment.
One of the ways in which favoritism can amount to harassment is when sexual favors are routinely traded or required for employment benefits. If some employees receive better assignments or pay because they submit to a supervisor’s sexual advances, the employees who do not submit may have a legal claim.
In such situations, it does not matter if you were directly propositioned by the supervisor or your employer. So long as submission to sexual favors is a condition to getting job benefits, you may file a complaint for widespread sexual favoritism. California Jury Instructions CACI 2521C.
However, it is important to keep in mind that isolated instances of favoritism in a consensual relationship between a worker and supervisor may not amount to sexual harassment or favoritism. Miller v. Department of Corrections (2005) 36 Cal.4th 446, 451. But these situations often blur the line between what is acceptable and what is not.
When favoritism is widespread or infamous around the workplace, it may create a hostile work environment. In such cases, behavior of this nature may lead other employees to genuinely believe they cannot get ahead in the workplace without being sexually involved with management.
These situations are often fluid however and will require the help of an experienced California employment attorney who can explain how the law applies.
Hostile work environment harassment
A hostile work environment is created when an individual is subjected to offensive, unwelcome conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it alters the conditions of her employment and creates an abusive work environment.
To create a hostile work environment, the sexual advances or conduct don’t have to be directed at the victim. It can be directed at someone else, such as a co-worker. Additionally, the victim doesn’t have to be the only person who is offended by the conduct.
To prove a hostile work environment claim, the victim must show that he or she was subjected to offensive, unwelcome conduct and that the conduct was so severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment and created an abusive work environment.
Who Can be Held Liable for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
In California, an employer can be held liable for sexual harassment that takes place in the workplace. This is true even if the employer didn’t know about the harassment or if the employer took steps to prevent it.
An employer can be held liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment if the harasser is a supervisor or someone in a position of power over the victim. An employer can also be held liable for hostile work environment sexual harassment if the harasser is a co-worker or someone who isn’t an employee of the company, such as a vendor or customer.
In some cases, an individual may be held liable for sexual harassment. This is most likely to occur if the individual is a supervisor or someone in a position of power over the victim.
Employers may also be responsible for harassment caused by nonemployees.
An employer may be held liable for third-party harassment under the FEHA. Government Code § 12940(j)(1). An employer may also be responsible for the acts of nonemployees, with respect to sexual harassment of employees, applicants, unpaid interns or volunteers, or persons providing services pursuant to a contract in the workplace, if the employer, or its agents or supervisors, knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. In reviewing cases involving the acts of nonemployees, the extent of the employer’s control and any other legal responsibility that the employer may have with respect to the conduct of those nonemployees shall be considered. An entity shall take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. This situation usually come sup when an employee is repeatedly dealing with a vendor, third-party, or any other individual hat the company requires the employee to engage in. An Employer cannot knowingly place it’s employee in an environment where they know sexual harassment is taking place.
What Are the Risks of Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim Against My Employer?
Filing a sexual harassment claim against your employer comes with some risks. First, you could be retaliated against by your employer. It’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment, but that doesn’t stop some employers from doing it.
Not filing a claim also has its risks. If you don’t take action, the sexual harassment is likely to continue. Additionally, if you wait too long to file a claim, you may be barred from doing so.
Without some evidence of making a complaint your case will be very difficult to prove. Most complaints to Human Resources can be kept strictly confidential and should be requested when being made.
An experienced California sexual harassment attorney can help you understand the risks involved in filing a claim and can help you take action to protect your rights.
What You Can Do if You’ve Been Sexually Harassed at Work
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work or you are seeing someone else being sexually harassed, you need to talk to an experienced California sexual harassment attorney. An attorney can help you understand your rights and can help you take action to stop the harassment and get the compensation you deserve.
You do not need to suffer in silence. You also do not need to be terminated or have lots of lost wages to seek a significant award of payment for damages. Often the losses cannot be calculated in the form of hours missed or wages, emotional distress damages can be paid on their own.
Eldessouky Law is here to help. We have extensive experience handling sexual harassment cases in California and we are ready to put our knowledge and experience to work for you. All consultations will be free and confidential.
Contact us today online or by calling 714-409-8991 to schedule a free case evaluation.