Harassment of any kind is never acceptable, but sexual harassment in the workplace can be especially toxic. Sexual harassment in California takes many forms and can cause real trauma. Victims often do not know how to address or fear retaliation if they report it. For some, the only two responses are either to allow it or quit. Neither of those options is acceptable. You should never have to succumb to sexual harassment to maintain your job. Likewise, you should never have to quit your job to escape sexual harassment. 

At Lowry Law Firm, our sexual harassment lawyer based in Los Angeles County recovers compensation for victims harmed by sexual harassment. The laws are very specific and stringent as is the statute of limitations, so there is no room for error. Contact us at 818-932-4141 to schedule a free consultation today.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in California?

Sexual harassment is sex discrimination in the workplace. It occurs when an applicant or employee is harassed on the basis of their sex. This includes harassment that is sexual in nature as well as behavior that is offensive in regards to a particular sex in general. 

While sexual harassment generally conjures up an image of a male harassing a female, in reality, it can also be a female harassing a male, or a person harassing another person of the same sex. Keep in mind, to be considered harassment, the behavior must be more than a simple offhand, isolated comment. Harassment must occur frequently or be so severe that it results in the victim being forced to work in an offensive or hostile work environment. 

In addition, it can be considered sexual harassment when the victim is fired, demoted, or passed over for promotion as a repercussion of the harassment.  

As the above suggests and according to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, two basic types of sexual harassment exist:

  1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment, which occurs when a superior or someone in a position of authority (e.g., a manager or supervisor) asks for unwanted sexual favors or an inappropriate relationship in return for a promotion, pay raise, a promise not to fire, or other on-the-job benefits; or
  2. Hostile work environment, which occurs when employees are allowed to make crude jokes, share pictures or content of a sexual nature, make sexual comments, or other similar behavior to co-workers, thus, creating a hostile work environment.

If you have experienced either of these types of harassment, contact Lowry Law Firm to learn about how you should proceed. Depending on the facts and circumstances, the next steps you take may vary, but these steps are also what may protect you and your rights as an employee in California. 

Examples of Sexual Harassment in California

Employers and employees should be clear on what actually constitutes sexual harassment. Following are examples of what is generally considered to be sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Inappropriate touching, rubbing, or rubbing up against another person 
  • Inappropriate sexual gestures
  • Making general offensive comments about a certain sex
  • Commenting on the physical appearance of others, including particular body parts and/or clothing
  • Sharing inappropriate sexual media, such as pornographic photographs and videos
  • Making comments regarding a person's gender or sexual orientation
  • Telling inappropriate, lewd, and sexually-based jokes

Sexual harassment can take many different forms. So, if the actions of another person in the workspace create a hostile work environment by making you feel as though you are the subject of sexual harassment, get advice on how to handle it today. 

Liability in Sexual Harassment Cases in California

Employees can be held personally liable for sexually harassing co-workers or subordinates. Employers can also be held liable. Determining when an employee or an employer (or both) are liable for sexual harassment depends on the jurisdiction and the particulars of each situation. 

Is the Employer Liable for Sexual Harassment?

To start the process to uncover the answer to this question, you should ask other questions, like: 

  • Was the sexual harasser a person in a supervisory position to the victim?
  • Did the harassment result in a hostile work environment?
  • Did the employer have control over the employee committing the harassment?
  • Did the employer know or should it have known about the harassment and did it fail to take prompt and proper corrective action?
  • Did the victim suffer an employment loss, such as being fired or demoted? 
  • Was anyone in the company aware of the harassment, like a supervisor or someone in human resources? 
  • Does the employer make each employee attend training on sexual harassment?
  • Are there employer policies in place to prevent sexual harassment?
  • Are sexual harassment prevention policies implemented and executed?

Whether or not the employer is liable will come down to who, what, where, and when. In California, employers are strictly liable for sexual harassment if such harassment is committed by a supervisor or by an agent of the employer. If the harassment is committed by a non-supervisory co-worker, then the employer will be liable if it knew, or should have known, that the harassment was occurring and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Thus, in California a finding of fault, i.e., that the employer was negligent, is necessary to hold an employer liable for harassment committed by a non-supervisory employee. This alone is the reason why you should speak to an employment law attorney in your area to make sure you know what the law is and if it applies to your case so that you can address it timely and properly.

What Should Employers in California Do to Prevent Sexual Harassment?

Employers must take proactive steps to ensure applicants and employees have a safe, comfortable work environment free of hostility, discrimination, and sexual harassment. They can do this by implementing preventive policies and procedures. 

Education and Training

Employers should implement company-wide training to educate all employees on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to prevent it. This training should be repeated on a regular basis. It should be kept current, reflecting and incorporating legal updates on the subject. 

Open communication regarding sexual harassment should be encouraged, with staff feeling as though they have an outlet to express their concerns.

Enforcement of Unambiguous Policies

Employers should also develop policies that address sexual harassment in the workplace and make clear that it will not be tolerated. When an employee does complain about sexual harassment, their claim should be investigated and the appropriate punishment given to the harasser, if the complaint is validated.

An employer must address sexual harassment claims timely and appropriately in accordance with federal and state laws. Retaliating against an employee for reporting sexual harassment is unlawful, and action can be taken against the employer.

What Are Employee Responsibilities to Prevent Sexual Harassment in California?

Employers are not the only ones who need to be proactive to prevent sexual harassment. Employees must also be active and vigilant to promote a healthy, non-hostile work environment.

Employees should familiarize themselves with the employer's policies on sexual harassment and comply with the mandated rules. They should also remain aware of their surroundings to watch for harassment against themselves and others.

If an employee is sexually harassed, they should immediately object to the harassment, if it's safe to do so and within their means. Also, if possible, and if it's safe to do so, the victim should clearly state that the behavior is unacceptable and will be reported. Likewise, if an employee sees a co-worker experiencing sexual harassment, they can offer support. This support could mean helping the victim protect themselves and/or report the incident to their boss, human resources, or another person or department.  

What Should Employees in California Do if Sexually Harassed in the Workplace?

Employees who believe they are the victim of sexual harassment have recourse. The following actions can help victims protect their rights.

  1. Keep a record. Employees who have been harassed or discriminated against should keep detailed records of the misconduct, including where and when it happened; a description of what was done or said; the name (or names) of the abuser(s); and the name (or names) of witnesses. Detailed notes are important. Potential evidence, such as emails, text messages, social media posts, photographs, and other evidence of the misconduct, should be preserved. If litigation occurs in the future, it is helpful to have the notes to jog memories and evidence to support the claims made.
  2. Report the harassment internally. Employees should immediately follow the guidelines in their employee handbook for reporting harassment and discrimination. California employers have a legal obligation to take prompt, appropriate corrective action to stop harassment and discrimination, even while they investigate the allegations, and a further obligation to conduct an investigation. Note, however, that some employers--surprisingly--may violate the law by ignoring complaints of harassment and discrimination and, further, by retaliating against an employee who has reported harassment or discrimination, even if the employer's handbook states that the employer does not to tolerate harassment and discrimination in the workplace; encourages reporting; and states that all complaints will be taken seriously. If an employee doesn't report harassment or discrimination, however, and it continues, then the employer will likely blame the employee for not giving the employer a chance to stop the harassment or discrimination. In sum, reporting harassment and discrimination carries a risk, but so does not reporting it. Employees may wish to speak with an attorney even before reporting harassment or discrimination for advice on what to include in a complaint and what to expect from the employer in response.
  3. Consider telling someone the employee trusts inside and outside the workplace. If an employee who is the victim of harassment or discrimination ends up having to file a lawsuit, the employer's attorneys may seek to take a deposition from the employee's spouse, domestic partner, or significant other; the employee's roommates; the employee's best friend; the employee's co-workers; the employee's doctor; the employee's therapist; the employee's spiritual advisor; and other people close to the employee. The defense attorneys do this looking for complaints made as things happened. If they find nothing, they will likely argue that the harassment or discrimination didn't happen.
  4. Be a model employee. Some employers may retaliate immediately against an employee who has reported harassment and discrimination. If they do, the employee's case will be even stronger. Other employers may watch the complaining employee closely to see if they violate any workplace rules or guidelines in order to find a "legitimate" reason to fire or discipline the complaining employee. Once an employee decides to report harassment or discrimination internally, the employee needs to be a model employee.   
  5. Speak to an attorney. If reporting the harassment or discrimination does not resolve the issue, the employee should speak with an attorney who handles harassment and discrimination claims. 

In harassment and discrimination cases, time is of the essence. There are limits on how long an employee has to file a complaint for harassment. Determining when the clock starts ticking can be tricky. Further, you may have to file a claim with a government agency, such as the California Civil Rights Department, before you can file a lawsuit. You should consult a lawyer who handles harassment and discrimination claims to ensure all the necessary steps have been taken to preserve your legal rights.  

Remedies for Sexual Harassment Cases in California

A number of remedies may be available to you if you have been the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace. Three potential and important remedies include:

  1. Compensation. If you prove your sexual harassment case, you are entitled to compensation. Compensation depends on several factors, including but not limited to the presence and extent of emotional distress, loss of wages, lost professional opportunities, medical expenses (like those for psychological care), and the nature and degree of the harassment (verbal versus physical).
  2. Opportunities. If you lost a job or professional opportunity, that job or opportunity could be offered or provided again.
  3. Alterations. Your employer should make sure your workspace is safe. This can include anything from improved training to the removal of the harasser.  

Contact an Employment Law Attorney in Los Angeles County Today

It is critical to consult a sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible after you have experienced sexual harassment, retaliation, or any other type of discrimination in the workplace. As time goes by, witnesses may forget details and deadlines will expire. 

At Lowry Law Firm, our employment law attorney will provide legal guidance and, if necessary and beneficial to you, file a sexual harassment complaint in California. Contact us today by filling out the online form or calling us at 818-932-4141 to schedule a free consultation.