This article looks at the five new principles California courts will use for interpreting sexual harassment laws.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, California lawmakers passed numerous laws designed to tackle workplace sexual harassment. Because these laws are so new, it remains to be seen how effective they will actually be at putting an end to harassment at work. However, what is clear is that the new laws represent a major shift in how the legal system treats sexual harassment claims. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, one of the most important changes is the five new advisory principles that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) will include to guide courts in how to interpret the new laws. If the courts adopt these principles forcefully, it is likely that fewer sexual harassment claims will be dismissed before reaching trial.
A look at the five new principles
The first principle says that an alleged victim will no longer have to prove that her productivity diminished because of the alleged harassment. Instead, the alleged harassment will only need to have been serious enough to have made it more difficult for a reasonable person to do the same job as the victim.
The second principle states that there only needs to be one incident of alleged sexual harassment in order to bring a claim forward so long as that single incident interfered with the employee’s work performance or created a hostile environment. As Bloomberg reports, the change addressed a problem with the previous law that, according to critics, essentially allowed harassers “one free grope.”
Third: alleged victims can now use isolated offensive remarks made to or about them as evidence of a hostile work environment regardless of whether or not the remark was connected to the victim’s termination or other adverse action taken against them.
Fourth: almost all workplaces will now be held to the same legal standard for determining whether or not sexual harassment occurred. This means that heavily male dominated industries, including auto mechanics and tech startups, can no longer dismiss sexual harassment as simply being a “part of the culture.” The only exception will be if sex-related content or conduct is integral to the job, such as scriptwriters for television or movie shows that may necessitate occasional discussion of possible sex scenes.
Finally, the fifth principle says that sexual harassment claims are “rarely” suitable for summary dismissal. This means that sexual harassment claims are more likely to reach trial, where the judge and jury will be able to get a much fuller account of the allegations than pre-trial written statements from both parties can provide.
Sexual harassment claims
For anybody who may have been the victim of alleged harassment in the workplace, it is important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who is experienced in handling these sensitive claims will be in the best position to help victims pursue justice.