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7 Steps California Employees Can Take To Stop Sexual Harassment


Sexual harassment dominates the headlines. The #MeToo movement has raised awareness of sexual harassment in and out of the workplace. Time recognized the “silence breakers” who spoke out against sexual harassment as its 2017 “Person of the Year.” From members of Congress to Hollywood producers, from managers of tech companies to photographers in the fashion industry, examples of sexual harassment are rampant.

Sexual harassment victims often feel they must put up with harassment in order to keep their jobs. In fact, there are a number of steps employees who have experienced sexual harassment can take. The Southern California sexual harassment lawyers at Arshakyan Law help victims of sexual harassment obtain a legal remedy for the workplace harassment they have endured.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

It is a violation of both federal and California law to harass an employee in the workplace because of that employee’s gender. It is also a violation of California law to harass an employee in the workplace because of that employee’s sexual orientation or gender expression.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. While sex discrimination includes issues like unequal pay and refusing to promote employees to top positions because of their gender, sexual harassment focuses on workplace behavior. The two kinds of sexual harassment recognized by civil rights laws are quid pro quo harassment and behavior that creates a hostile work environment.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a “boss” asks for sexual favors in exchange for a raise, a promotion, or continued employment. An employee who experiences an “adverse employment action” (for example, termination, denial of a raise or promotion, reduced pay or hours, or unfair discipline) for saying “no” has been the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can be committed by owners, managers, or supervisors who have the authority to affect an employee’s compensation, position, or employment status. When an unwelcome request for sexual favors is made by a co-worker who has no such authority, the request contribute to a hostile work environment, but it does not constitute quid pro quo harassment.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

The second form of sexual harassment occurs when conditions of employment become hostile, abusive, oppressive, or intolerable because of an employee’s sex. Unlike quid pro quo harassment, a hostile work environment does not need to result in an adverse employment action, and the responsible employees do not need to be in a position to affect the victim’s terms of employment. In fact, most hostile work environments are created by co-employees.

Examples of behavior that can create a hostile work environment include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances

  • Unwanted touching

  • Lewd comments or jokes

  • Sex-based insults or offensive remarks

  • Insults that are only directed to employees of one gender

  • Threats that are only directed to employees of one gender

  • Pornographic images or cartoons

  • Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors (even if no adverse employment action is taken)

Not every act of harassment creates a hostile work environment. The law tolerates isolated acts of harassment that are relatively trivial. When acts of harassment are severe or pervasive, however, a hostile work environment may exist.

A sexual assault is an example of severe harassment. Acts of harassment are pervasive when they occur so frequently that they interfere with the ability to work and would be regarded as intolerable by most reasonable employees.

What Can I Do If I Was Sexually Harassed at Work?

It may be unfair to expect sexual harassment victims to tolerate harassing behavior when it is not severe or pervasive, but employees can take steps to prevent harassment from recurring. The action an employee should take usually depends on the nature of the harassment.

Step 1:

If you have been subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment, get immediate advice from a Southern California employment law attorney. It may be necessary to file a prompt discrimination claim with an appropriate agency. The deadline for filing is usually 180 days or 1 year after the adverse employment action, depending on the agency in which the claim is filed. Contacting a lawyer immediately allows the claim to be investigated so that a detailed claim can be filed as the first step toward obtaining a remedy.

Step 2:

If the harassing incident involves a sexual assault, report it to your employer and to the police. You should also get immediate advice from a Southern California employment discrimination lawyer.

Step 3:

If the harassing incident is less severe, was committed by a co-worker, and has not occurred before (such as an unwanted sexual proposition or a lewd remark), tell the co-worker to stop.

Step 4:

If the conduct persists after you’ve discussed it with the co-worker(s), notify your employer that you are being sexually harassed. If your employer has a sexual harassment policy, follow the policy.

Most policies designate a particular person or department (such as the HR department) to receive and investigate sexual harassment complaints. If the person who is harassing you is the person designated in the policy to receive reports (such as your supervisor), report it to someone else in the company who has authority to act on the company’s behalf.

If your employer has no sexual harassment policy, report the incident to the person you regard as “the boss.” If you aren’t sure whether a sexual harassment policy exists, ask “the boss” or someone in the Human Relations or Personnel department where you should make your report. If there is no sexual harassment policy and you aren’t sure what to do, ask a Southern California sexual harassment lawyer for advice.

Step 5:

Begin to keep a written record and put it in a safe place. Write down as much detail as possible, including dates, times, the names of persons who participated in the harassment, the names of witnesses who were present, the person to whom you reported the harassment, the response you received, and any action you could identify that management took in response to your complaint.

Step 6:

Each time a new harassing act occurs, report it to management. Don’t worry about making yourself a pest. It is against the law to retaliate against an employee for exercising the right to oppose sexual harassment.

Step 7:

If you have given management a chance to resolve the problem and harassment continues, talk to a Southern California sexual harassment attorney. It may be time to file a complaint with an appropriate agency or to take other action. An employment lawyer at Arshakyan Law can tell you what you need to do to protect your rights.