Workplace sexual harassment all too common in California

Harassment can take many forms in the workplace. Recently, an investigation into harassment claims within the National Guard was conducted by NBC stations in San Francisco and southern California.

Investigators interviewed members of the California National Guard who wanted to expose the truth about the inner culture of the Guard in hopes that doing so would help resolve their claims. Nearly two-dozen members of California's National Guard came forward with complaints of sexual and racial harassment that have gone unresolved, and in some cases, members have experienced retaliation from the organization for filing sexual harassment complaints.

This disturbing trend in a branch of this nation's military prompts a discussion of how sexual harassment is defined and the responsibility employers have to protect employees from harassment. Many workplaces are as close-knit and tip-lipped as a branch of the military but illegal harassment is much the same.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

The frustrating experiences of Guard members in California prompts a closer look at California's workplace sexual harassment laws and how those harassed in the workplace may be able to hold their employers responsible.

Sexual harassment is harassment based on sex or behavior that is sexual in nature. It includes gender harassment and harassment based on pregnancy and childbirth or related conditions. Examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Sexually degrading words directed at an individual verbally or in print
  • Unwanted touching or assault
  • The display of sexually subjective objects or pictures
  • Leering
  • Gestures
  • Offering benefits in exchange for sex
  • Threatening retaliation for failing to engage in sexual behavior

When any of the above occur in the workplace, employers may be liable for the harassment if it does not taken steps to prevent or resolve the abuse. Under California law, employers must take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, including training on sexual harassment, developing a prevention policy and procedures on resolving sexual harassment complaints and investigating all reports of sexual harassment thoroughly. Additionally, California employers who employ more than 50 workers must provide at least two hours or sexual harassment training for all supervisors every two years.

Employers can be liable for the sexual harassment committed by supervisors or agents of the company if the victim can prove the company did not provide reasonable training or take other actions to prevent the abuse from occurring. Additionally, employers can be held liable for harassment of an employee by a client or customer if the employer knew or had reason to know of the harassment.

California's sexual harassment laws are complicated but provide protections to workers from sexual harassment in the workplace. Those who have been sexually harassed at work should contact an experienced employment law lawyer.