Guide to California Sexual Harassment Law

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Posted by Legal Team On December 20, 2023

Sexual harassment in the workplace takes many forms. This type of harassment can look like intimidation, teasing, inappropriate comments, demotions, or bullying. Regardless of its method of delivery, sexual harassment is illegal.

Whether the harassment is initiated by a coworker, supervisor, or client, documenting the incidents is essential, and speaking with an experienced Northern California sexual harassment attorney can help you protect yourself from inappropriate work practices. Kelly Armstrong, founder of The Armstrong Law Firm, is recognized for her authority and achievements in fighting against incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Defining Sexual Harassment in California

An action or behavior creating an intimidating, offensive, or hostile workplace that is of a sexual nature is sexual harassment, regardless of whether the behavior occurred once or multiple times. These acts are a credible threat of unlawful violence that is used to harass, scare, or annoy another person.

There are multiple components to sexual harassment. The first is objective, recognizing that any person in the workplace of the harassed individual would interpret the actions as abusive, offensive, or hostile. A subjective component acknowledges the employee’s emotional suffering because of the behavior, with the potential of the weight of the actions impacting their health or ability to function in their work environment.

Recognizing Harassment in the Workplace

California law divides workplace sexual harassment into two categories. An employee may be subjected to one or both.

Hostile Work Environment

Inappropriate behaviors that are inescapable or severe in the workplace create a hostile work environment. These behaviors may present as:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Inappropriate comments or jokes
  • Inappropriate touching
  • A reduction in an employee’s role or wages as retaliation for rejecting sexual advances
  • Unfair firing for reporting the incident

These behaviors impact not only the workplace but also someone’s personal life.

Quid Pro Quo

This type of sexual harassment comes from a higher-ranking employee or supervisor who offers an improvement in a work situation in return for sexual favors. This individual must have the potential to enact the promised situational change.

Laws Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in California

In addition to existing laws, newer laws have been implemented to address California sexual harassment.

AB 9: Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (SHARE)

SHARE extends the time limits the harassed individual has to act, allowing them to file a complaint with the Fair Employment and Housing Administration (FEHA) up to three years after the incident occurs instead of one year.

AB 547

This bill expanded on the AB 1978 and focused on preventing sexual harassment in the janitorial workforce sector. Training is required to prevent sexual harassment, as well as information about qualified organizations and peer trainers who can provide in-person or online training to non-supervisory staff.

SB 1343

Expanding this law requires employers with five or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training. This law extends to employee training but was initially directed at supervisory staff only.

Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

FEHA is the leading law in California providing employees protection against harassment, with the provisions protecting against employee harassment applying to all employers.

Employers Must Have a Sexual Harassment Policy in Place

Also provided under FEHA, employers are required to have policies in place (2 CCR §11023) that address sexual harassment. Written procedures should help employees identify these acts, how to file a report, and where filing should occur. Each employee should receive a copy of the policy.

Your Rights Under the Law

Each employee is guaranteed certain rights under the law. Employees should never be discouraged from requesting help in incidents of sexual harassment. A sexual harassment attorney in Northern California will explain your rights and assist with legal action.

Retaliation for exercising your California employee rights is illegal, allowing for an employee to take action against improper firing actions, demotions, shift changes, benefits reductions, or any other act of retaliation that impacts your employment.

A Safe Work Environment

A work environment must be from hostile behavior recognized as harassment. A safe work environment provides a written sexual harassment policy, is required by law, and is presented in understandable language.

Filing a Report and Having a Complaint Taken Seriously and Investigated

Filing a report with the human resources division or a supervisor is your right and is recommended. Putting your statement in writing allows proof of the incident in your own words. A company’s policies should outline proper reporting procedures. After a report is filed, an employer is required to act quickly to stop the actions and protect the individual being harassed.

It is your right to discuss what will happen once a complaint is filed. You may also ask who will know about the complaint. The individual accused of harassment will likely be notified and interviewed about the complaint, along with coworkers who may have witnessed the event.

File a Complaint With Governmental Agencies

Employees can file a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Even though time limits have been extended in California for reporting actions of sexual harassment, the statute of limitations differs for other agencies.

The Right to Legal Action

Employees are allowed to obtain a notice for the right-to-sue in California. Taking this route eliminates the state’s investigation process. Deadlines for filing a lawsuit also apply.

Speak Out Against Sexual Harassment

Each employee has the right to speak out against and about the harassment that has occurred. Voicing an opinion against policies that perpetuate harassment can be addressed. Additionally, you have the right to picket or protest against sexual harassment to demand better workplace conditions.

Remain Silent

There is more support than ever for individuals who have suffered sexual harassment. The Armstrong Law Firm is a staunch advocate of employees’ rights to a harassment-free environment. Despite these support systems, you can navigate workplace harassment however you feel prepared.

Let Us Advocate for Your Safe Workplace Environment in California

Learn about the intake process and how The Armstrong Law Firm advocates for employees’ rights. We provide honest assessments, respecting your time and privacy. After reviewing our process, feel free to contact us to receive the respect and support you need.