While on the surface it might be hard to believe that sexual harassment is still a pervasive issue for people in the workplace, but this type of misconduct does in fact occur, and is even a growing concern among many places of employment. Every employee has the right to spend their time at work free from the deviancy of unwanted sexual advances or behavior – both men and women are protected from sexual harassment under state law, it applies to all employees.
What is the Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment?
State and Federal law both loosely define sexual harassment as unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace. Generally, sexual harassment can fall under two categories of behavior: hostile environment harassment and quid pro quo harassment.
Hostile Work Environment Harassment
This is the more frequent type of sexual harassment, and this happens when a worker’s environment feels hostile or abusive. Even if the misconduct of your employer is not sexual in nature, if there is openly expressed hostility towards a gender at your job, it still can fall under the definition of hostile environment harassment.
The logic of a hostile environment harassment lawsuit is as follows: an employee has found the workplace to be so abusive that they can no longer work there. This is also known as “constructive discharge” and although the employee has quit it is viewed as a termination because their resignation was technically involuntary.
Quid pro Quo Harassment
This type of harassment occurs when a person’s job is conditioned on submitting to unwanted sexual behavior – whether it is expressly articulated or implied. Literally defined as “this for that,” Quid pro Quo harassment might be a situation where a manager tells you that if you would like to remain employed, you have to have relations with them. Similarly, an employer informing you that you will suffer some sort of negative consequence (like a demotion, decrease in pay, or less hours) if you do not submit to their advances can be a Quid pro Quo situation as well.
When is my Employer Liable?
When your employer does not take the reasonable steps that are necessary to stop harassment or gender discrimination from occurring, they can be held liable in court for sexual harassment. They can escape liability if they have clearly taken measures to correct the behavior of the harasser and have made a demonstrated effort to prevent discrimination and harassment.
Reasonable Steps might be defined as:
- Demonstrating a strong disapproval of the harassment.
- Integrating workplace policies to prevent sexual misconduct.
- Raising the issue of harassment.
- Encouraging employees to report any harassment and letting them know what their rights are.
- Disciplining employees who violate workplace policies against harassment.
What Should I do if I am Being Sexually Harassed?
As with many other matters involving workplace harassment, it is advised that you first exercise all administrative options by filing a complaint within your place of employment. If your company has no administrative policies to prevent or correct sexual abuse, make a point to clearly inform your employer that you are being subjected to sexual advances or harassment that you find unwelcome and unwanted.
If your employer approved of your harasser’s actions, or if they failed to correct this person’s behavior, you might want to seek legal recourse. You are encouraged to consult a sexual harassment attorney because there are certain measures you must take to prove that sexual harassment has occurred.
California law also mandates that before you can pursue a civil suit, you must first file a complaint with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Please note that there is a statute of limitations governing sexual harassment lawsuits, which an attorney can assist you with meeting as well.
If you can prove that the sexual harassment was severe and pervasive, you might be entitled to recover damages including medical and psychiatric costs, emotional distress and punitive damages. If you have lost wages in the past, you might be able to recover these, or damages to account for wages lost in the future. Recovering damages for the expense of a sexual harassment lawyer is possible as well.
The Employee Rights Law Group has been passionately defending the rights of workers for years, offering the services and attention of a small attorney’s office as well as the expertise and efficiency of a larger legal firm to employees in need of legal counsel. The legal team achieves their success by truly understanding what sexual harassment victims have been through. It is their ability to understand and articulate the nature of the harassment that has afforded them their previous success. If you suspect that you are the victim of sexual harassment, please fill out our online form or call us today, as the period where you can file suit may be limited.