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Posted on June 30, 2022 | Employment Law,Sexual Harassment,Workplace Discrimination
Sexual harassment in the workplace violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Sexual harassment can come in many forms in the workplace and is, unfortunately, somewhat common. California law defines sexual harassment not only as unwelcome advances or sexual actions that create a hostile work environment but also as discrimination or actions against a person based on their gender, sexual orientation, or pregnancy status.
A study conducted by CNBC revealed that 1 in 5 American adults have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. Of the 800 respondents in the study, 10% of men reported being a victim, while 27% of women say they have been a victim of workplace sexual harassment. Of those surveyed, 87% said their company takes sexual harassment seriously. While there is still room for improvement, it is encouraging to know most employers take harassment claims seriously.
In terms of the age ranges most susceptible to workplace sexual harassment, 39% of the women who reported being victims were in the baby boomer generation, 36% were Gen X, and 25 percent were millennials. It is hopeful that as future generations enter the workplace, the statistics will continue to decline as awareness increases and the expectation of upholding a safe work environment for all becomes more commonplace.
A 2015 study conducted by the Huffington Post included 2,200 female respondents and found that nearly 75% of workplace sexual harassment claims go unreported. This could be out of fear of retaliation, though it is illegal for you to be retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment. If you feel you have been discriminated against or retaliated against after reporting a sexual harassment incident in the workplace, contact a civil rights attorney to learn about your options.
The same 2015 study also indicated that a majority of workplace sexual harassment occurs verbally in about 80% of incidences. Physical sexual harassment constituted 44% of the cases, and unwanted sexual emails or text messages accounted for 25% of the incidences in the study. The study also noted that about 15% of the respondents didn’t have a clear understanding of what counts as sexual harassment at work, which could cause underreporting and could skew the data.
California employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace. Federal regulation indicates that employers have a duty to create a workplace environment free of sexual harassment and must respond to claims of sexual harassment with timely corrective actions. In 2019, California laws were updated, which now require companies with five or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all workers every two years, and to new hires within six months of onboarding. Previously, this training was only required for those in supervisory roles in businesses of 50+ employees.
Sexual harassment training provided by employers must include specific elements to comply with the law. Training must outline the federal and state statutes regarding workplace sexual harassment, ways to prevent and correct sexual harassment, remedies for victims, and examples of how to prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation of reporters.
Q: What should employees do if they feel that they have been sexually harassed?
A: A good first step for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace is for them to review their employer’s sexual harassment policy if one exists. That should outline the steps to follow. For those that do not have a policy in place, employees who have been sexually harassed should tell the person harassing them to stop if they are comfortable doing so. Additionally, employees should report the harassment to their manager or HR department in writing and request something be done to stop the unwanted behavior. Finally, they can file a complaint with a state or government agency such as the DFEH or EEOC.
Q: Are there different types of sexual harassment claims?
A: California generally categorizes sexual harassment claims into one of two violations: quid pro quo sexual harassment or hostile work environment sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an authority figure, such as a manager or supervisor, sexually harasses an employee and implies their job will be impacted (e.g., promotion, raise, etc.) by their compliance with the sexual demand.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee (supervisor or not) makes sexual comments, advances, humor, or other sexually suggestive acts that interfere with another employee’s work performance.
Q: What kinds of behavior could be considered sexual harassment?
A: When you think of sexual harassment, specific acts may come to mind, such as unwanted touching or sexual advances, making sexual jokes or comments, or making suggestive gestures. These are all overt forms of sexual harassment, but subtle acts may also warrant a complaint if they make others feel uncomfortable or intimidated enough to interfere with their work. Gender discrimination, inquiring about a coworker’s sex life or discussing one’s own sex life, or giving unwanted romantic gifts can also be considered sexual harassment.
Q: Do you need a lawyer if you believe you are facing sexual harassment at work?
A: You do not need a lawyer to file a sexual harassment complaint with a government agency, but consulting a lawyer can be helpful if you are unsure whether what you are experiencing at work falls under sexual harassment. If, after filing a complaint, your claim is reviewed and you are issued a “right to sue” notice, a lawyer will be instrumental in building your case, determining what damages you are entitled to seek compensation for, and helping you navigate the legal process surrounding your claim.
Sexual harassment in the workplace makes for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe daily environment. The civil rights attorneys at The Law Office of Omid Nosrati are here to help you understand your rights and options in your situation. Sexual harassment is a broad category of harassment, so if you are unsure if what you’re experiencing falls under sexual harassment, we can help you determine this. Contact us today to discuss your case and determine the next steps you can take to seek justice after being a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.