Sexual harassment in the workplace is unfortunately an everyday occurrence in the United States. It can make the work environment a very uncomfortable place and can have a serious impact on work performance. Despite laws in place to prevent harassment, every year employees file tens of thousands of sexual harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and various state agencies, including the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Definition of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is any kind of unwanted, unwelcome or inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature in the workplace. This includes many different types of offensive or inappropriate activities. It also extends equally to claims of same-sex harassment. The following is a list of some examples:
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Threatening retaliation after a rejection of sexual advances
- Visual conduct such as leering, sexual gestures, or displaying suggestive objects, drawings or pictures
- Making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs or jokes
- Verbal sexual advances or propositions
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature or comments about an individual’s body
- Physical conduct such as touching, assault or blocking movements
Types of Sexual Harassment
The law recognizes two types of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo harassment and Hostile Work Environment. Quid Pro Quo harassment occurs when an employer or supervisor demands sexual favors in exchange for raises, promotions or other perks or threatens an employee for failure to provide sexual favors.
Hostile Work Environment harassment occurs when the working environment is made hostile because of its sexual nature. You may have a claim for hostile environment harassment if your working environment is made intolerable by things such as photos, comments, jokes, or other acts of an offensive sexual nature, including physical touching.
Laws Prohibiting Sexual Harassment
Both federal and state law protect employees against workplace sexual harassment. Federal law remedies for workplace sexual harassment are based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. State law remedies are based upon the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). Victims of sexual harassment can recover for lost wages, future lost wages, emotional distress, attorney’s fees and in some cases, punitive damages.
Retaliation Not Permitted
Retaliation is illegal and can lead to a substantially higher jury verdict than otherwise would be the case. Therefore, employers should treat complaints of harassment very seriously and carefully address an employee’s concerns.
If you are being sexually harassed, it is a good idea to build a paper trail, including letters, photos, sexually explicit emails or other tangible items. If the evidence of offending conduct is on a large piece of furniture or other item that you cannot keep, take photographs of the evidence.
Sexual harassment and retaliation by an employer are serious offenses with real consequences. If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is important to contact a knowledgeable employment attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at Kaplan Weiss LLP are committed advocates of employee rights. Contact us today to discuss the details of your case.