We've all seen the rise in workplace sexual harassment claims in recent months, and it is important to know what to look out for. You want to be able to prevent this from happening to you, but also your coworkers. Even if the person being harassed chooses not to report the incident, whether due to fear of retaliation or for personal reasons, you can still report it. We all need to work together to eliminate this growing problem once and for all. Here's what you need to know.
Sexual Harassment Basics
Sexual harassment is typically defined as any unwelcome behavior relating to a person's gender or sexual orientation that goes so far as to create a hostile or uncomfortable working environment. If this seems like an incredibly broad definition, you're absolutely right, and that is one of the things that makes this type of offense so hard to identify.
The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but there are no regulations in place to protect against occasional off-color remarks. In order to qualify as sexual harassment, these remarks need to be an ongoing occurrence to the point that it makes it difficult for you to get your work done or interact with your coworkers.
Although this seems like a small distinction, it serves to protect those who say or do something inappropriate without realizing the effect it is having on another person, like making a joke in bad taste or simply making an error in judgement. The law is designed to stop extreme forms of harassment, not unfortunate mistakes.
Sexual harassment can be physical in nature, or it can be verbal. It is not just the person at whom the offensive actions or comments are directed that is the victim of sexual harassment. Any witnesses to the incident can also feel uncomfortable or offended by the harassment. It is up to everyone in the workplace to look out for each other and take the necessary actions to stop sexual harassment.
Although many of the recent headlines have related to male offenders and female victims, this is not always the case. The harasser can be either male or female, as can the victim. The two parties do not have to be members of the opposite sex either. Harassers are often in positions of power, like supervisors and managers, but this does not always hold true. Anyone can commit sexual harassment, and anyone can be a victim of it.
Types of Sexual Harassment
To better understand what constitutes sexual harassment, let's take a look at some specific examples. There are two primary categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo harassment is the easier of the two to identify. Basically, it means that the victim is being offered special treatment in exchange for sexual favors. In these cases, the offender is typically a person in a position of power, and the victim is usually one of their subordinates.
Special treatment could include anything from being guaranteed a promotion or raise to avoiding being fired. The assumption is that the victim would not otherwise get what is being offered without performing sexual favors. This doesn't need to be overtly stated; it could be implied as well.
Sexual favors aren't just limited to actually having sex, though. It could also be giving a massage, taking off an article of clothing, doing a sexy dance or other similar actions. Any action that is sexual in nature or objectifies the victim's body could be termed a sexual favor.
Typically, these types of cases are a bit easier to identify than hostile work environment sexual harassment claims. However, they do still have nuances that can make them tricky to prosecute. Go with your gut on these matters; if something seems untoward, it probably is.
Hostile Work Environment
Hostile work environment cases are much more complicated and subjective than quid pro quo cases. They are much more difficult to prove and prosecute, which is likely one of the key reasons why so many of these cases go unreported. Let's look at a few examples to help clarify the issue.
A man commenting that a woman's outfit looks nice might not be considered sexual harassment if he is giving her a genuine compliment. However, if he makes the same comment about her outfit while lasciviously eyeing her up and down, it very likely would be considered harassment.
Similarly, a woman posing seductively outside a coworker's office while wearing a low-cut top in an attempt to distract him would likely be deemed harassment. That same woman wearing the same low-cut top but just going about her work would be unlikely to qualify as sexual harassment, unless the company's dress code specifically prohibits revealing clothing.
It is up to the court to determine whether the offender's actions truly create a hostile work environment for the victim, taking into consideration:
- How often the offending conduct occurs
- How long it has been taking place
- Whether the victim is singled out or others are targeted as well
- Whether the offender is in a position of power or a coworker at the same level
- Whether there was a single offender or multiple parties joining in
Of course, these are just a few of the considerations the court will evaluate. Their goal is to create a complete picture of the victim's working environment in order to determine whether any reasonable person would find the environment hostile, abusive or offensive.
The onus is not just on the court, though; the victim must also prove that they truly believed they were being harassed. This requirement serves to prevent employees from bringing sexual harassment claims merely out of spite or anger. They need to be able to back up their claims that they felt harassed. This could include documentation of past reports of similar incidents or calling other coworkers to speak as witnesses.
If you believe that you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, the first thing you should do is report the incident. If the offender is your coworker, you can report it to your supervisor or manager, or human resources department. However, if your supervisor or manager is the one doing the harassing, you'll need to go straight to human resources.
Your HR representative will be able to help you fill out all the necessary paperwork to formally file your claim so that it goes in the company's records. They can also advise you on the next steps you should take. Of course, you hope that the offensive actions or comments will stop after you make your report, but unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
If you have filed a report with your company and the unwanted behavior continues, you'll need to take more drastic action, like bringing your case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or filing a lawsuit. The EEOC can help you organize your case and get ready to take it to court. Its representatives are experts in sexual harassment cases and can provide the advice and guidance you need in this difficult time.
The EEOC will then notify your company that your charge has been filed. Then, they will begin an investigation into the situation to gather evidence to help prove your claim. If the EEOC determines that no sexual harassment occurs, you can appeal the decision, and you also have the option of bringing a lawsuit against your company on your own, although your chances of success are minimal.
If the EEOC does determine that you are being sexually harassed, the next step will be to attempt what is known as conciliation. Basically, this is an attempt to resolve the issue internally at your place of employment. The EEOC will back you in the negotiations in an attempt to help you achieve a favorable result. If you and your employer are unable to reach suitable terms, your next course of action is to bring your case to court.
Work with a Sexual Harassment Attorney
Your employer likely has a team of lawyers at their back, so you'll need to be prepared for a battle in court. The first thing you should do is secure the assistance of an attorney who has experience in arguing sexual harassment cases. Because these cases are rarely black and white, you need a lawyer who understands the nuances of sexual harassment law.
In the process of preparing for your court case, you'll be discussing intensely personal topics with your attorney, which can often be quite uncomfortable. Take the time to interview several different lawyers to ensure you find someone you are comfortable talking to about sensitive issues. The two of you will be spending a lot of time together in the coming weeks or even months, so you want to have confidence that you made the right choice.
Sexual Harassment Punishments
It may surprise you to learn that it is the employer, not the individual offender, who will bear the brunt of the punishment in a sexual harassment case. There are no specific laws in place against the person doing the harassing. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that it isn't happening in their office or other work site. It is up to the company to enact any punishment against the harasser.
If you win your case, your employer may be required to pay your wages for the time you had to take off work to go to court in addition to any wages you might have missed out on if your career trajectory was adversely affected, like if you were passed over a promotion for not complying with your supervisor's request for a sexual favor.
You may also be entitled to additional compensation to account for personal and professional turmoil you endured as a result of the harassment. In many cases, you can get your employer to cover your attorney and court fees. You may even be eligible for a promotion or raise to make up for the offense.
Although there are no legal ramifications for the harasser, your employer may choose to punish them. This could include things like a formal warning, transfer to a different branch or department, pay cut or demotion. For more extreme cases, your company may even choose to terminate the individual's employment.
Oftentimes, companies require sexual harassment offenders to attend training courses or counseling sessions to help avoid future offenses. The employee may also have to agree to be monitored while on the job for a specified period of time to ensure that the offenses do not continue.
While it may be frustrating that there are no legal ramifications for your harasser, this is the way that the law currently stands. However, as more and more sexual harassment cases continue to make the headlines, it is very possible that these laws could change in the future. Stronger legislation in this area would help to deter these incidents from happening in the first place, as repeat offenders become aware that their actions have greater consequences than just public shame.
Call California Sexual Harassment Attorney for a Free Consultation
Here at California Sexual Harassment Attorney, we have helped many clients throughout California with their sexual harassment lawsuits. We are innately familiar with both the federal laws on this matter and the specific laws in the state of California and its various jurisdictions. This deep background knowledge lets us get right down into the details of your claim so that we can build the strongest possible case.
Of course, there is no way that we can fully guarantee a victory in court for you; any lawyer who promises this is not acting responsibly. What we can promise you, though, is that we will do everything in our power to help you achieve the most favorable resolution possible.
We'll be happy to sit down with you to discuss the details of your case at no charge to you. We'll examine any evidence you have to determine whether or not we believe that you have a strong case. This free consultation isn't just for us, though; it will also give you a chance to learn more about our firm, our attorneys and the process of filing a sexual harassment lawsuit. We want you to have all the information you need to make an educated decision about working with us.
Reach out to us today at 800-905-1856 to schedule an appointment for your free, no-obligation consultation with one of our sexual harassment attorneys. We'll be happy to help you build your case and stop the harassment you are experiencing.