What Is Sexual Harassment in California? Understanding the State’s Legal Definitions and Protections

Explore what constitutes sexual harassment in California with Waltman Employment Law. Our guide provides detailed insights into legal definitions, boundaries, and implications, helping you navigate your rights and options.

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Sexual harassment is a profound violation of an individual’s rights and can significantly undermine a person’s dignity and well-being. Sexual harassment is a type of harassment carried out with express or implied sexual undertones. It includes visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This behavior is unlawful when the conduct expressly or subtly affects a person’s employment, interferes with their ability to work, or creates an unsafe, hostile, and uncomfortable work environment.

At Waltman Employment Law, we stand staunchly with California employees who have experienced the indignities of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment should not be part of anyone’s job description, and we are here to ensure that your voice is heard and your rights are respected in the face of such adversity. Our practice encompasses a range of cases that constitute sexual harassment, including harassment and retaliation for reporting such conduct. Contact us to find out how we can support you in standing up against sexual harassment and workplace injustices.

Defining Sexual Harassment in California

The California Department of Justice defines sexual harassment as ‘unwelcome sexual advances or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.’ Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), these actions become unlawful when they are used as a basis for employment decisions, create a hostile work environment, or result in a less favorable employment situation for victims of sexual orientation of either gender.

Types of Sexual Harassment

There are typically two forms in which sexual harassment manifests in the work environment. They include:

  1. Quid Pro Quo harassment, wherein employment benefits are contingent upon sexual favors.
  2. Hostile Work Environment harassment, which includes unwanted sexual advances or conduct that disrupts an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating work atmosphere.

Examples of Unacceptable Behavior

  • Unwanted touching, patting, hugging, or kissing.
  • Inappropriate sexual gestures or comments.
  • Displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures, including electronic content.
  • Off-color or sexually offensive jokes or remarks.

Elements of California Sexual Harassment Law

  • Unwelcome Sexual Conduct: Any unwanted advances, comments, or gestures of a sexual nature that are unwanted can amount to sexual harassment. According to the California Government Code Section 12940 (j)(4)(C), sexually harassing conduct does not need to be motivated by sexual desire.
  • Power Dynamics: Sexual harassment often involves a superior making unwelcome advances toward a subordinate, creating a skewed power dynamic. However, sexual harassment can be perpetuated by a colleague of equal rank.
  • Frequency: Sexually harassing conduct can be a single severe instance or a series of pervasive acts.
  • Impact: Sexual harassment must create a hostile or offensive work environment or result in a “quid pro quo” situation.

At Waltman Employment Law, we are dedicated to ensuring that employees are treated with nothing but respect and dignity in the workplace. Sexual harassment is not only a violation of state and federal laws, but it is also an infringement on the right to work in a safe and secure environment. We assist those affected by providing a factual understanding of their rights and the legal recourse available.

California Sexual Harassment Laws and Statutes

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) serves as a cornerstone in protecting Californians against discrimination, including sexual harassment, in the workplace. This Act defines sexual harassment and sets forth the procedures for filing complaints, along with the consequences for violations. The Act is enforced by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Further amplifying these protections is California Government Code Section 12950.1, which mandates:

  1. Employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training and education
  2. Guidelines for employers to take immediate and appropriate action when addressing allegations of sexual harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also enforces certain federal laws that protect employees from sexual harassment. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination, which encompasses sexual harassment, among other things.

Victims’ Rights and Protections

In California, individuals who have experienced sexual harassment have rights and are entitled to robust protections. At Waltman Employment Law, we guide victims through understanding and asserting these rights.

  • Right to a Safe Work Environment: Employees are entitled to a workplace that is free from sexual harassment and discrimination. Federal and state laws strictly prohibit actions that create a hostile, offensive, or threatening work environment. When these rights are infringed, employees have the right to seek appropriate remedies.
  • Protections Against Retaliation: Californian employees are protected from retaliation by their employers for reporting sexual harassment. It is against the law for an employer to punish an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint, speaking up against it, or participating in an investigation or lawsuit.
  • Confidentiality: While no law outrightly mandates that workplace sexual harassment cases be treated with confidentiality, victims may request that the agency handling their case should treat it confidentially. Additionally, working with a law firm like Waltman Employment Law ensures that your case is handled in a manner that safeguards your privacy with the highest level of discretion.

If you feel threatened or your rights as a victim have been compromised, know that our attorneys are here to offer the support you require. We navigate the legal framework so you can focus on your well-being and recovery from any workplace sexual harassment lawsuit. For detailed information regarding workplace sexual harassment, refer to the State of California Department of Justice overview.

Reporting Sexual Harassment

In California, it is crucial to report sexual discrimination and harassment assertively and promptly to address and prevent workplace injustices. The actions you take following an incident considered sexual harassment can be pivotal to the outcome of your case.

  • Documentation: Firstly, meticulously document every sexual harassment complaint you make. Note dates, times, places, and potential witnesses. Include all types of communication, such as emails, texts, or notes.
  • Reporting: You can make sexual harassment claims through the following processes:
    • Company Procedure: Follow your employer’s internal reporting procedures. This often involves notifying a supervisor or the Human Resources department.
    • Government Agencies: If the internal process is insufficient or you face retaliation, you may file a complaint with government agencies like the DFEH or EEOC.
    • Civil Lawsuit: If the administrative complaint does not resolve the issue, pursuing a civil lawsuit against the harasser and/or the employer is an available next step. The courts may award compensatory damages for pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In some cases, the court may also award exemplary damages intended to punish the wrongdoer.
  • Timely Reporting: Keep in mind that time is of the essence. You have a limited window to file a sexual harassment claim with relevant authorities — typically within 300 days for the EEOC and one year for the DFEH. However, the SHARE (Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension) Act, also known as AB 9, came into effect in 2020, extending the deadline for FEHA discrimination cases from one year to three years.
  • Seek Legal Counsel: Consider obtaining legal guidance to navigate the complexities of your claim. A knowledgeable attorney can offer crucial advice on how to proceed with your case and protect your rights. If you need further information on employment discrimination and harassment, pertinent details can be found through insightful FAQ answers provided by employment attorneys.

We understand that reporting sexual harassment is a significant step, and we’re here to provide the commitment and compassion you deserve to ensure justice prevails in abusive workplaces.

How Waltman Employment Law Can Assist You

When dealing with sexual harassment at work, it is crucial to have a legal team that is not only knowledgeable about California law but also deeply committed to advocating for your rights. At Waltman Employment Law, we provide compassionate and committed legal representation. To employees facing the daunting reality of sexual harassment at work, remember that California Law is on your side. Here are a few steps we’ll take together:

  1. Consultation: Discuss the details of your experience with us confidentially.
  2. Investigation: We’ll gather all necessary documentation and witness statements.
  3. Legal Action: Filing official complaints and representing you in all legal proceedings.
  4. Resolution: Aiming for the justice and compensation you deserve.

Let Us Handle Your Workplace Harassment Claims

At Waltman Employment Law, our practice is dedicated to fighting for victims of abusive workplaces, especially those who have experienced workplace sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. We know that it takes courage to stand up against abusive work environments and are ready to offer tailored advocacy and support.

If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed at work, do not hesitate to reach out. Contact us for a consultation to take the first vital step in seeking redress for your case.