Sexual Harassment

What to Do if You Experienced Sexual Harassment at Work?

Many workers who experience sexual harassment do not understand their legal rights and do not know what to do when they are harassed at work.

Sexual harassment is a common form of sex-based discrimination that is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unfortunately, this type of harassment is widespread in workplaces across California.

According to a study by the Center for Gender Equity and Health (GEH), an estimated over 86 percent of women in California said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. By contrast, 53 percent of men in California reported experiencing sexual harassment.

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, do not wait to discuss what happened with an experienced sexual harassment attorney.

8 Steps to Take if Someone Sexually Harassed You

If you experience any form of sexual harassment at work, it can be difficult to speak up. Many people who have been sexually harassed in the workplace feel isolated, while others are afraid to tell anyone about what happened.

Read on to learn what steps you need to take if you have become a victim of sexual harassment in San Diego or other parts of California. Before taking any action, however, call a sexual harassment lawyer who can advise you throughout the process.

1. Know Your Rights

Under California law, employers must provide a safe work environment free of harassment. If your employer fails to do this, you may hold them vicariously liable for failing to prevent harassment in the workplace.

Under certain circumstances, you can hold an employer liable for sexual harassment by clients or customers.

2. Read Your Employer’s Sexual Harassment Policy

California Code of Regulations § 11023 requires employers to have a sexual harassment policy in place. Employers also must make their employees aware of the policy, which outlines the formal complaint procedure for employees to report workplace sexual harassment at work.

3. Tell the Harasser to Stop

Unless doing so could trigger an aggressive or violent response, it may be a good idea to tell the harasser to stop. By telling the harasser to stop, you put them on notice that you are offended by their conduct or unacceptable behavior.

It might resolve the problem because:

  • The harasser might not realize that their behavior is harassing or offensive; and
  • The harasser might fear that your next step will be filing a formal complaint if they do not stop.

However, do not confront the harasser if you do not feel comfortable or safe doing so.

4. Document Sexual Harassment at Work

If you experience workplace sexual harassment, you should document everything, including:

  • Each incident involving harassing behavior
  • The date and time harassment occurred
  • What the harasser said or did
  • What your response was to the harasser’s behavior
  • Whether anyone has witnessed the incident
  • Whether you have complained about sexual harassment to your employer
  • Whether your employer has taken any reasonable steps to stop harassment

The best way to document sexual harassment is by keeping a journal and writing everything down. Written evidence is critical because memories may fade over time.

5. Report Sexual Harassment to Your Employer

If telling the harasser to stop did not resolve the problem, your next step should be reporting sexual harassment to your employer. Many companies in California implement their own procedures for making internal complaints. If you cannot find the internal complaint procedure in your company’s sexual harassment policy or handbook, report sexual harassment to the company’s human resources (HR) department, your supervisor, or directly to your employer.

Making a complaint to your company will put your employer on notice and allow your employer to correct the situation. If your employer fails to take the necessary steps to stop harassment, you could hold your employer liable.

Remember: Human resources work for your employer, not you. The personnel there may try to protect the company, not you. You will want a sexual harassment lawyer to help you report to H.R.

6. File a Complaint with the DFEH or EEOC

If your employer fails to respond to your complaint or you are not satisfied with the way your employer handled your complaint, you may file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

If a government agency fails to help you settle your sexual harassment case, you can proceed with filing a civil lawsuit to recover damages.

7. Consult a San Diego Sexual Harassment Lawyer

It is advisable to speak with a knowledgeable lawyer who can review your particular situation and determine the best course of action in your case. Receive a consultation with a sexual harassment lawyer to determine what you should do if you have been sexually harassed at work. An attorney can conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation to help you understand how to best proceed with your case.

8. Do Not Wait Too Long to Take Action

There is a limited amount of time to take legal action if you experience sexual harassment at work. Under California law, you have only one year from the date of the most recent incident of harassment to file a complaint with the DFEH.

If you pursue a claim through the EEOC, you have 300 days to file a complaint with the federal agency. If you fail to bring a complaint before the applicable deadline expires, the DFEH or EEOC will not investigate your claim.

For this reason, you have no time to waste if you have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Contact an experienced lawyer to help you document sexual harassment and report harassment to the appropriate agency.

Contact Sexual Harassment Lawyers for Help

The right sexual harassment lawyers will have decades of experience representing victims of various forms of workplace harassment. They will understand the urgency and seriousness of your case, which is why most lawyers are prepared to seek justice on your behalf and, if necessary, aggressively litigate your case.

You never have to simply accept a work environment that involves harassment. Take action to protect yourself today.

Common Forms of Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Under California law, it is illegal to discriminate against employees based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In other words, your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your actual or perceived homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality. However, not all workers can recognize signs of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

For this reason, we decided to list some of the most common forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. If your employer discriminated against you because of your sexual orientation, contact a San Diego discrimination lawyer. You likely have important legal rights that a lawyer can help you protect.

Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation is Illegal in California

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire, or in any other way discriminating against employees because of their sexual orientation (California Government Code § 12940).

Under the FEHA, it is also illegal for employers to harass employees because of their sexual orientation. To hold your employer liable for harassment based on sexual orientation, you must prove that the behavior was so severe or pervasive that it interfered with your ability to work (California Government Code § 12923).

Note: FEHA regulations apply to all companies that have five or more employees.

In addition, Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire or promote, demoting, harassing, or otherwise discriminating against employees based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Thus, you can sue your employer and recover compensation if your employer discriminates against you because you are:

  • Bisexual
  • Asexual
  • Heterosexual
  • Straight
  • Gay
  • Lesbian

When filing a discrimination claim, it does not matter whether the sexual orientation is actual or perceived. In other words, you can sue your employer even if your employer is mistaken about your orientation or identity.

Common Forms of Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Under federal and California state law, it is illegal to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation.

Common forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation include:

  • Firing or terminating employment
  • Refusing to hire
  • Refusing to promote
  • Demoting
  • Denying a pay raise
  • Denying the benefits to which an employee is entitled
  • Denying reinstatement
  • Asking a prospective employee about sexual orientation during a job interview
  • Harassing an employee because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation
  • Denying an employee’s access to educational or training programs available to employees of a specific sexual orientation
  • Refusing to select an employee for a training program
  • Paying less because of a sexual orientation
  • Reducing an employee’s salary after learning about their orientation
  • Forcing an employee to quit voluntarily
  • Discharging an employee
  • Including discriminatory language in the conditions of employment
  • Assigning inferior job duties
  • Giving more desirable jobs to workers of a specific sexual orientation
  • Promoting workers of a specific sexual orientation
  • Providing reduced benefits
  • Issuing poor performance evaluations
  • Making disparaging comments or insulting an employee because of their sexual orientation
  • Retaliating against an employee for reporting discrimination at work, filing a complaint, or helping co-workers file a complaint
  • Discriminating against an employee in any other way

Employers cannot retaliate against employees for complaining about discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic. Retaliation is illegal in California, which means your employer cannot punish you or take adverse employment action against you for complaining about workplace discrimination or harassment.

If you believe that your employer has retaliated against you for exercising your rights, speak with a retaliation lawyer. The right employment attorney will review your unique situation and help you understand whether or not you can sue your employer for discriminating or retaliating against you.

What to Do if You Experience Discrimination Because of Your Sexual Orientation?

If you experience workplace discrimination based on your sexual orientation, file an internal complaint with help from your lawyer. When complaining about sexual orientation discrimination—or any other type of discrimination in the workplace, for that matter—follow your company’s internal procedure for filing complaints.

Usually, a victim of discrimination or harassment must file a formal complaint with the company’s human resources (H.R.) department. You will want a lawyer to fill out that complaint for you.

When filing a discrimination complaint, document all instances of workplace discrimination you can remember.

You should keep a journal and write down:

  • The date and time of each incident
  • The place (a specific area of the worksite) where the incident occurred
  • Whether anyone witnessed the incident
  • What makes you believe that you were harassed or discriminated against because of your sexual orientation

If your employer fails to take reasonable steps to correct the situation after receiving an internal complaint, you could proceed with filing a claim with California’s DFEH. Once your claim is received, the agency will launch an investigation into your complaint.

If the DFEH determines that the alleged discrimination took place after concluding its investigation, the agency will attempt to resolve the dispute through a settlement or file a civil lawsuit.

Note: In California, you have one year from the latest incident of discrimination to bring a claim with the DFEH.

Alternatively, you can also file a civil lawsuit against your employer for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Generally, California courts require plaintiffs in workplace discrimination cases to exhaust their administrative remedies before bringing a lawsuit against the employer.

Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer

Your discrimination lawyer may be able to help you obtain a right to sue your employer without having to go through the entire administrative process first. Speak with a knowledgeable attorney to determine your best course of action to hold your employer responsible for sexual orientation discrimination.

Never ignore workplace discrimination of any kind, including based on sexual orientation. Taking action not only helps you recover financially for what you experienced, but it also helps to prevent future instances of discrimination against other employees.

Types of Sexual Harassment at Work

In the modern workplace, there are several protections in place to ensure that workers do not encounter unacceptable conditions in the workplace. One such condition that has been receiving increasing attention is that of sexual harassment. In the past and in current times, many industries have had ongoing issues concerning sexual harassment, whether between customers and employees, or managers and their subordinates. Following is a consideration of the two most often addressed types of sexual harassment in the work environment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, EEOC, it is unlawful to harass a person because of their sex, whether they are an applicant or an employee. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, this should provide a useful guide to recognize if it was one of these types, and an attorney can help you determine the strength of your case and the size of your prospective settlement.

The U.S. EEOC declares as sexual harassment:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment in the Work Environment

In the workplace, requests for sexual favors are illegal under the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, and the harasser can be of any gender, while the victim can likewise be any gender. It is not the gender of the persons involved but the nature of the actions.

A quid pro quo sexual harassment case is one in which the harasser offers workplace opportunities, compensation, or other forms of value to the victim, contingent upon their consenting to sexual activity of some sort. The demand for a sexual favor in exchange for something is the essence of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

The American Bar Association defines quid pro quo harassment as being when a job benefit is tied directly to an employee submitting to the unwelcome sexual advances of an employer or supervisor. For example, a manager might require that an employee go on a date with them before considering them for a promotion or raise. Another more extreme example is an employer telling an employee they will fire them if they do not engage in unwelcome sexual activity.

Sexual Harassment in the Form of a Hostile Workplace Environment

If you were in a situation where it seemed like your ability to earn or get a promotion or change in your position at work depended on consent to sexual acts or accepting unwanted sexual advances or behavior, you may work in a hostile workplace.

Should your failure to engage in a quid pro quo relationship have long-lasting effects on your work environment, a hostile work environment claim may have developed. When you feel uncomfortable in your workplace for not having consented to certain acts, and if your prospects for advancement are limited, you may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages can help you recover from opportunities that you might have lost, like the value of a promotion. Sometimes courts award punitive damages to the plaintiff to punish the offending party.

In instances involving sexual harassment, if your case were to go to a jury, punitive damages can cost your employer a lot of money. You need a lawyer who understands the rules and regulations in your state and how they apply to the unique facts and context of your case. Such an attorney can best apply rules and statutes to your situation to bring you the best possible outcome.

FAQs

Can Employers Sexually Harass Employees or Applicants?

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission notes that sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace in any form.

What is quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace?

If your employer or supervisor has said that for you to receive some form of a job benefit, you must engage in unwanted behavior of a sexual nature, you have experienced quid pro quo harassment.

What if my manager says I have to go on a date with him to get better shifts?

This is an instance of quid pro quo harassment where a job benefit is contingent on an unwelcome sexual advance, in this instance, a meeting of non-professional nature. The harassment need not be explicit either, with an attorney being helpful to determine the strength of your case.

How do I know if I’m experiencing hostile work environment sexual harassment?

When a co-worker impacts your ability to do your job professionally and free of undue pressure and negativity because you refused to engage in unwanted sexual advances, your hostile work environment case is rooted in sexual harassment.

Is my employer responsible if my supervisor sexually harasses me?

In some instances, when the employer had knowledge or had failed in addressing prior situations of sexual harassment, they may be liable for the sexual harassment of their employees. Consult with an attorney to determine whether the facts of your situation might represent a case of sexual harassment.

What Steps Can I Take if Someone Sexual Harassed Me in the Workplace?

When a coworker or supervisor sexually harasses you in the workplace, document the situation to create a record of evidence. This will vary depending upon the structure of the organization and who harassed you. If you work for a larger employer with a human resources department, it may offer a policy to protect against sexual harassment and steps to take if it occurred.

Remember, however, that human resources’ job is to protect the company, not you. Call an employment lawyer to protect you if you decide to go through your employer’s human resources process.

If you work for a company where the employer is also your direct supervisor, you may feel as if you have nowhere to turn. You may feel that your only option is to leave the job because of sexual harassment. That, however, does not mean you can’t recover damages for the wrongful loss of your job and earnings.

Aaron Olsen
Attorney, Aaron Olsen

In such cases, reach out to an attorney to consider your options to prevent ongoing harassment and recover damages if the sexual harassment threatens your job.

Is Sexual Harassment Happening At Your Workplace?

Passed in 2019, SB 778 extended the deadline for new sexual harassment prevention training requirements in California to Jan. 1, 2021. As we are now in the new year, the deadline for compliance has lapsed – this means you, your coworkers, and supervisors should have all received sexual harassment prevention training by now.

Under SB 778, all California employers with five or more employees must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of training to all other employees. These trainings must recur every two years, and employers have within six months after hiring or promotion to train new employees or supervisors.

Is Your Employer Taking Sexual Harassment Seriously?

If sexual harassment has been an ongoing problem at work and your employer isn’t taking it seriously, you can hold them liable by filing a lawsuit. Your employer should have intervened with meaningful action after you reported what happened and who was involved – especially if they were supervisors.

Under California’s new sexual harassment training law, all employees and supervisors were required to have received prevention training by Jan. 1, 2021 – your employer could be liable if it failed to provide training to those who engaged in sexually harassing behavior.

At Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, our employment law attorneys are ready to hear about your situation at work. We fight for employees like you who need to hold their employers accountable when they break the law. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, reach out to us today for help.

Schedule a free initial consultation with Haeggquist & Eck, LLP when you call (619) 342-8000 or contact us online.

What Employees Should Do If a Sexual Harassment Complaint Goes Unaddressed?

Sexual harassment is a serious issue in the workplace and must be taken seriously when an employee reports it. Upon receiving a complaint, the employer has a legal obligation to investigate it thoroughly without delay.

This isn’t a situation where the employer can bide their time and decide what option would be in their best interests. The employer has a duty to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.

Despite this rather clear obligation, some employers may hesitate or give an appearance of doing something when really they are doing nothing at all.

The employee may be told that management and human resources are looking into the matter, but weeks and months pass by with minor or no developments. This is a process that does take time, but it should shoot to the top of every involved individual’s list of priorities. The employee may eventually be told the complaint has no merit.

Consult with an Attorney

If you feel that a reasonable amount of time has passed since you made your report and your company has taken no action, refuses to inform you of what’s going on, or has decided your claim has no merit, you should consult with an attorney..

If by chance you are reading this before reporting an incident to your employer, consider speaking with an attorney first who can advise you through this process. Securing legal representation as soon as possible can help you understand what should be going on and how long is “too long” for your employer to thoroughly investigate your claims and take action to protect you.

Reach Out To Us For a Free Consultation

If you need to report sexual harassment or think your employer isn’t taking your complaint seriously, reach out to Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for assistance. Our employment law firm often represents clients who need to fight for fair and just compensation after experiencing sexual harassment at work. We can help you hold your employer accountable and get what you deserve after your rights have been violated.

Reach out to us today to schedule a free initial consultation. You can get in touch with someone who can help by calling (619) 342-8000 or by contacting us online.

5 Things People Often Don’t Know About Sexual Harassment Cases

Like many topics in employment law, there’s a lot of nuance with regard to sexual harassment at work. While this is an often-discussed topic – especially in light of the #MeToo movement – and activists have done much to raise awareness, there are many things about sexual harassment that a lot of people don’t know.

Some of those lesser-known facts can make a difference in whether or not a new claim is filed and another step toward seeking justice is made. It’s in this spirit that we wish to present five things that people don’t often know about sexual harassment cases.

If you wish to speak with an attorney about a potential sexual harassment claim – especially after reading this list – don’t hesitate to contact our lawyers at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for a free consultation.

1. The Incident You Report Doesn’t Have To Involve You

While many sexual harassment lawsuits center on claims the plaintiff makes about what happened to her or himself, it doesn’t necessarily have to work like that. There are a number of reasons why people who are targeted for sexual harassment won’t take action – and a lot of it comes down to the fear of what can happen to them if they do.

The individual directly experiencing the harassment doesn’t need to be the person who reports it to management or, in some cases, even files a lawsuit. This is because sexual harassment is often so frequent or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment – and the thing about such an environment is that it can create a threatening or distracting atmosphere that all employees must live within.

This is, in essence, why you can file a sexual harassment claim even when you’re not the targeted individual. Bear in mind this doesn’t mean you would file on behalf of that person. Whether or not they want to pursue their own case is entirely up to them.

2. Harassment Doesn’t Have To Be Verbal or Physical

Sexual harassment is all about the things people can do or say to you or someone else – right? Most cases involve these two elements of abuse, but there’s a third option most people don’t consider because it can hide in plain sight, so to speak.

Think about the trope of the office swimsuit calendar. This relic from a bygone era is indicative of sexual harassment that passively impacts employees. When posters, calendars, mousepads, screensavers, desktop backgrounds, and other decorative items around the office feature sexual or sexualized imagery of any body – male or female – they can create a hostile work environment that makes it difficult or impossible for certain employees to feel safe or focused enough to do their work.

It’s worth noting here that passive sexual harassment isn’t limited to imagery. The same can be true for quotes or sayings that are sexually offensive or discriminatory. When these are printed and posted on surfaces or included in email signatures, these too can create a hostile work environment.

3. Your Employer Can’t Retaliate Even If Your Claim Isn’t Proven

It is illegal under any circumstance for your employer to retaliate against you with regard to your sexual harassment report, claim, or lawsuit. Even if you lost the lawsuit, your employer is prohibited from terminating or otherwise enacting punishment against you for costing them time and money in court.

If employers could retaliate against employees who could not legally prove that sexual harassment occurred, it might discourage other employees from reporting their experiences in the future.

4. Even If You Quit Your Job, You Can Still Sue

An important myth we wish to dispel is that you can’t sue your former employer for sexual harassment if you voluntarily quit your job. Many people believe this, and it has two unfortunate outcomes: It leaves people feeling like they must stay with employers that abuse them and it leaves employees who quit feeling like they lost their chance to fight back.

Neither of these is true. If you experienced sexual harassment at work in California, you have one year from the date of the last incident to file a claim and pursue legal action.

This time limit is known as the statute of limitations, and it’s crucial to know and understand for any employment law matter. Depending upon the type of claim you have, the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit may be different than other kinds of claims.

5. Sexual Harassment Is a Form of Gender Discrimination

People might think about sexual harassment and gender discrimination as two things that are sort of related but ultimately deal with separate matters.

The truth of the matter, however, that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination and prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We may attribute certain activities or behaviors under the umbrella of sexual harassment, but that itself falls under the umbrella of gender discrimination.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

If you were sexually harassed at work, turn to the employment law attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for assistance. Our firm is dedicated to helping clients fight for what they deserve after they have experienced sexual misconduct and abuse in the workplace.

We can help you fight for fair and just compensation that can help you move forward with your life after enduring sexual harassment. If you want to learn more about what we can do for you, please reach out to us today and request a complimentary initial consultation with our attorneys.

Get in touch with us by filling out our online contact form or by calling (619) 342-8000. Remember to ask about your FREE initial consultation with our attorneys.

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