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What To Do if You Are Being Sexually Harassed at Work?

Sexual harassment can affect every area of your work experience, from your job performance to how you feel about getting up for work in the morning. The stress that comes from a hostile work environment can even spill over into your life outside work, impacting your health and your non-work relationships.

Fortunately, you don’t have to tolerate harassment in the workplace. Both federal and California law offer protections designed to ensure that you can do your job in peace, or receive fair compensation that allows you to move on from the environment in which the harassment takes place.

Types of Sexual Harassment in Los Angeles

Sexual harassment law protects against a wider range of behaviors than many people realize. The most obvious and commonly-recognized type of sexual harassment is technically known as quid pro quo harassment. This type of sexual harassment involves the direct exchange (or proposed exchange) of sexual favors for favorable treatment in the workplace. For example:

  • An employee is told or otherwise led to believe that she will be considered for or granted a promotion if she responds to her supervisor’s sexual advances; or
  • An employee who has rebuffed a manager’s interest in her is penalized with unfavorable work assignments, disciplinary action, or termination

While this type of sexual harassment is often the most clear and direct, it is just one variety. Many other types of harassment can create a hostile work environment, making it difficult or impossible for an employee—or a whole group of employees—to work effectively. Some examples of this type of workplace sexual harassment include:

  • Frequent crude jokes and comments of a sexual nature
  • A pattern of denigrating or insulting comments about one gender
  • Repeated unwelcome sexual advances
  • Display or circulation of pornographic material
  • Negative treatment after declining or ending a sexual or romantic relationship

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. Many unwelcome behaviors can form the basis of a hostile work environment claim. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed at work, a local sexual harassment attorney can be your best resource. A lawyer experienced in handling sexual harassment claims will understand the stress associated with pervasive, inappropriate workplace conduct, and can assess your claim and explain your options.

What is the First Step a Supervisor Should Take in Los Angeles County?

While many people believe that only a manager or other person in a position of power can sexually harass an employee, the harasser need not be a superior. Any co-worker or group of co-workers can sexually harass an employee. If the employer is aware of the harassment or reasonably should have known of the harassment and fails to take adequate steps to stop it, the company may be held liable for sexual harassment. In some cases, the harasser may even be a contractor, vendor, customer, or other person the employee comes in contact with in the course of employment.

Although it is more common for women to be the victims of workplace sexual harassment, the law makes no distinction based on sex or sexual orientation. The harasser and victim may be of opposite sexes or the same sex, straight or gay, male or female.

If you are being subjected to unwanted sexual conduct at work, being touched inappropriately, being subjected to insulting or vulgar jokes and comments on a regular basis, or otherwise sexually harassed at work or in the course of your employment, help is available. A victim of sexual harassment need not even be the intended target. Don’t assume that the harassment must come from a superior, that your job must be threatened, or that you must be directly targeted before you can fight back.

California Workplace Harassment Law

Both the state of California and the federal government have enacted legislation to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. In many cases, the victim of sexual harassment will have the option of pursuing a federal claim, a state claim, or perhaps both.

Civil Rights Regarding Harassment in California

Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination, and federal law protects victims through Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII applies to organizations with 15 or more employees, including local, state, and federal governmental bodies, employment agencies, and labor unions.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with enforcement of federal sex discrimination claims under Title VII, and a victim who wishes to pursue a federal sexual harassment lawsuit must first file a charge with the EEOC.

California Fair Employment and Housing Act

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination in employment. The California Act protects some workers who would not be eligible to file claims under federal law, as the California state prohibition on sex discrimination extends to persons or organizations employing at least five people.

Legal protection extends not just to employees, but also to other affected parties such as unpaid interns, applicants, and independent contractors.

What Do I Do If I am Being Sexually Harassed at Work?

If you dread going to work in the morning because of the harassment you face on the job, feel your performance is being affected by a sexually aggressive atmosphere, or find that your health and mental state have been negatively affected by sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace, it’s time to stand up for yourself.

While it may be difficult to confront your harassers or make waves in the workplace, certain steps are generally required if you hope to pursue a legal claim. Fortunately, those steps are the same ones you would typically take to protect yourself from sexual harassment.

  1. Ensure that your harasser knows that the conduct is unwelcome. The law protects you from unwanted sexual advances, contact, and other conduct. However, you cannot assume that the person behaving inappropriately knows that his or her actions are unwelcome. If someone is acting in a way that makes you uncomfortable, ask him or her firmly to stop.
  2. Report continuing harassment or hostile conditions to your supervisor, human resources department, or both. Your employer has a duty to protect you from sexual harassment in the workplace, but can’t take action or be held responsible if the appropriate parties don’t know (or can credibly claim not to have known) that you are having problems. Use the reporting procedure set forth in your employee handbook, or consult human resources about the appropriate procedures.
  3. Document incidents of sexual harassment in detail, including dates, times, and witnesses. If and when your claim proceeds to a government agency or to litigation, you will have to provide specific information about the harassment that occurred, the steps you took to stop it, and the reports you made to your superiors. While it may seem that you will never forget these events, specific details may be lost over time, and it will be important to be clear on which of your co-workers or others witnessed these incidents.
  4. Consult a California sexual harassment lawyer. Even if you are just beginning to consider your options, an attorney experienced in handling sexual harassment cases can be an invaluable resource. Talk to an attorney to learn more about prohibited behavior and how you can protect yourself at every stage.

Most Americans spend more of their waking hours at work than in any other context. If inappropriate behavior from a co-worker, manager, or other party is making that significant piece of your life stressful, unpleasant, and unproductive, you owe it to yourself to fight back.

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