Startling surveys show that one in four women are sexually harassed in the workplace. Numerous unlawful acts go unreported due to the fear of the repercussions for speaking out, including possibly losing a job, fear of personal safety, or being isolated within the work environment. Serious physical and mental anguish can arise from being subjected to continuing sexual harassment while at work such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and loss of self-esteem. It’s imperative for individuals to have a voice and to speak out against sexual harassment.
Both women and men may be victims of sexual harassment, and the conduct may come from an employer or a co-worker of the opposite gender or same gender. It’s essential that employees feel protected and safe while working, and the employer is responsible for ensuring that employees are not victims to either subtle or obvious workplace harassment. Unlawful conduct may include: unwelcome emails, text messages, or phone calls, sexual jokes, lewd comments, or foul gestures, sexual favoritism, inappropriate touching, being denied a promotion or pay raise because of your sex, or being offered a benefit for a sexual favor. Fighting back against the unwanted advances is key to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.
California law protects employees from both sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Pursuant to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), there are two main categories of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo harassment, meaning you are offered benefits for sexual favors and hostile work environment, meaning sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment. The California FEHA strictly prohibits sexual harassment and requires that employers take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and take immediate action to stop any employee or management from sexually harassing another.
Federal law also prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act governs most private and public employers, employment agencies, and labor unions and makes it illegal for an employer to allow a worker to be subjected to sexual harassment. These laws require that employers immediately investigate claims of sexual harassment by using a qualified, neutral investigator. The law says that all victims are to be protected from any retaliation, and the employer must take appropriate and corrective action to resolve the victim worker. When an employer fails to take action, they may be held strictly responsible for the harassment committed by supervisor, agent, employee or third party, such as a customer.
The harasser may not be the only person held accountable. A cause of action may arise against an individual facilitating or aiding the unlawful conduct. Government Code section 12940(i) provides that it is an unlawful employment practice “for any person to aid, abet, incite, compel, or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden under this part, or to attempt to do so.” Therefore, a victim may have a claim against those individuals encouraging and/or participating in the sexual harassment.
Advocating to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace requires a voice…a voice for decency and respect while in the working environment. Condoning or committing verbal or physical harassment is actionable in the workplace, but only if the victim speaks up and fights against the unlawful conduct.
Hold those accountable for their improper and unwanted conduct by asserting your right to work in a safe and hostile-free environment. Don’t be silent…protect yourself against sexual harassment.
Nancyrose Hernandez, Esq
27851 Bradley Rd, Ste 145
Menifee, CA 92586