Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful and prohibited conduct that the state of California takes very seriously. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) considers harassment based on sex to include harassment due to one’s gender, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and comparable medical conditions. The FEHA defines sexual harassment as all unwanted and unsolicited sexual advances, and also verbal/physical conduct or visuals of a sexual nature. Also included in the definition are a diverse variety of offensive behaviors such as gender-based harassment conducted by a person who is of the same sex as the person that is harassed. Some of the main offenses included on the FEHA list of prohibited sexual harassment include:
- Unsolicited/unwanted sexual advances;
- Making employment benefit promises in order to receive sexual favors;
- Physical conduct such as assaulting, touching, and confining a person’s movement;
- Retaliating or making threats of retaliation after a negative response is received because of a sexual advances;
- Using or making derogatory jokes, comments and epithets;
- Making sexual gestures, leering or displaying suggestive pictures, objects, posters and other visuals;
- Propositioning a person to engage in sexual acts; and
- Verbal abuse that is sexual in nature, including comments about a person’s body, sexual orientation and the use of derogatory sexual phrases.
Employer Liability and Obligations
In Los Angeles, all employers are legally prohibited from harassing employees. An employer is held strictly liable for any harassment that occurs in the workplace that is conducted by that employer’s agents and/or supervisors. This strict liability means that an employer will be held absolutely liable for sexual harassment in the workplace regardless of whether any proof of fault exists. If sexual harassment occurs at a workplace, the employer can be held liable for the conduct even if management did not know. However, this overarching liability is not absolute, because an employer can avoid liability if a non-managing employee conducted sexual harassment, without the employer’s knowledge, and that employer had a sexual harassment program in place.
In addition to being held strictly liable for sexual harassment in the workplace, employers are required to undertake preventative measures in order to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment. Thus, an employer must take reasonable steps including creating sexual harassment programs in order to not be held liable for any sexual harassment that occurs.
The reasonable steps that must be taken to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace include:
- Making sure that the workplace is completely free from sexual harassment by posting Department of Fair Employment and Housing posters about sexual harassment prevention; and
- Distributing information to employees about sexual harassment prevention, applicable laws regarding sexual harassment, options for reporting sexual harassment, and legal remedies.
Bringing Claims for Workplace Sexual Harassment
If you are an employee or applicant and believe that you have been sexually harassed at your workplace, you have within one year following the harassment to file a discrimination complaint with the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Once your complaint has been filed, the DFEH will investigate and attempt to bring about a resolution to the dispute. If it is discovered the sexual harassment did indeed occur, and settlement attempts have failed, the DFEH can then file a formal accusation against both the harasser and employer. From there, either a lawsuit can be filed on behalf of the DFEH, or a public hearing will be held in front of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission.
Los Angeles, California Employment Law Attorneys – Offering Superior Legal Guidance
Bringing a sexual harassment claim against an employer can be a scary and stressful time in one’s life. As a result you should contact one of our Los Angeles employment attorneys here at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP. Our professionals have years of expertise and experience with delivering legal services, advice and guidance for sexual harassment and other workplace disputes. Contact HKM Employment Attorneys LLP today.
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