There are many forms of harassment that one can encounter in the workplace. Perhaps one of the vilest is sexual harassment. Such harassment can be perpetrated by men against women, women against men or between those of the same gender. Especially troubling is when the perpetrator is a supervisor, or is otherwise in a position of authority over the victim.
Sadly, this type of harassment continues to be a perennial problem in California workplaces. The news recently carried a story of a female manager who filed a lawsuit against a fitness chain in California because of alleged sexual harassment by her supervisor.
According to the lawsuit, the manager, a former British X-Factor contestant, was hired for a spa manager job at the fitness chain. The manager claimed that her supervisor told her to join him for dinner to celebrate her new job. Following the dinner, the manager alleged that her supervisor pressured her to have sexual intercourse with him. According to the employee, a complaint to human resources went nowhere, forcing her to later resign.
Of course, not all instances of sexual harassment are so cut and dry. Because of this, it is important for every employee to understand the law regarding sexual harassment in California. Under the law, sexual harassment is an “unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.” Prohibited acts under the law include:
• Unwanted sexual advances
• Sexual comments or jokes
• Unwelcome or offensive touching
• Displaying sexual materials, including pornography on computer screens
• Vulgar gestures or leering
• Quid pro quo harassment-demanding sexual favors in return for benefits, promotions or other advancements
Once any instances of sexual harassment are made known to the employer, the law requires the company to take all reasonable steps, including thoroughly investigating the alleged behavior and taking the necessary steps to stop the abuse and prevent it from happening again. A failure to do can result in legal liability.
In addition to preventing sexual harassment, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees exercising their right to file a sexual harassment complaint. Retaliation can mean many things including: demotions, terminations, undesirable assignments or salary reductions.
If you are faced with sexual harassment, it is important to document each offending incident, making note of the time, date and facts of each incident. Also, keep copies of any internal complaints that you file and related correspondence.
If your company refuses to address the problem, the next step is to timely file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment. If either of these agencies determines that your claim has merit, you will be issued a right-to-sue letter. This allows you to file a private lawsuit against your employer to seek monetary damages, reinstatement of employment and other relief.
An attorney can help
If you are experiencing sexual harassment on the job, regardless of whether it concerns a boss or co-worker, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney as early in the process as possible. Your employer may be persuaded to settle your claim without the need of filing a formal complaint. However, if a formal complaint is necessary, an attorney can prepare the necessary documents that will ensure that you have the best chances of success in obtaining a right-to-sue letter and in prevailing on your subsequent lawsuit.