Becoming an accountant in California is hard work, takes years of education, and requires state licensing. But after all of that effort, many in the industry end up being targeted for sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, or illegal discrimination by their employers, supervisor, or a coworker.
But you don't have to put with sexual harassment from your superiors or from an accountant you've hired to provide services - not harassment! At Sexual Harassment Attorney, we can provide you with the legal help and advice you need to know what steps to take in righting all wrongs you've suffered due to sexual harassment.
We have helped many others in or involved with the accountancy and financial services industry secure their rightful settlements after being targeted for harassment or discrimination - and we can do the same for you!
Contact Sexual Harassment Attorney today, anytime 24/7, by calling 800-905-1856 and we will give you a free legal consultation without delay and without any strings attached!
What Is "Sexual Harassment" Under California Law?
California's anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws are among the strictest in the nation, and yet, it's still unfortunately not uncommon for real sexual harassment and discrimination to occur in California workplaces. The accountant and financial services industry is not exception. You may have planned on doing nothing more than conduct audits, keep accounting records, prepare personal and corporate financial statements, prepare tax forms, invoices, budgets, payrolls, and perform other financial services - but sexual harassment can suddenly intrude and disrupt your plans.
But what exactly counts as "sexual harassment," you might ask. California's Fair Employment & Housing Act puts up some very significant boundaries and provides for a process of identifying and correcting all manner of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Act covers much the same ground, but since California's laws are stricter, most plaintiffs press charges under state law.
Sexual harassment is just "sex-based" harassment. When you are targeted for harassment because of your gender (whether or not a demand for sex or sexual advances are involved), that is sex-based. Harassment based on sex is a form of discrimination, but since discrimination is a much broader category, we deal sexual harassment separately.
Sexual harassment must be unwanted, unwelcome, and unsolicited. It can't be something you engaged in willingly unless you were under duress. It has to be non-consensual in nature. Sexual harassment must also be either severe or persistent. A one-time, mild case of someone barely crossing the line with a "joke" or comment probably can't be successfully prosecuted. But if a one-time incident is severe and clear enough, or if a series of incidents continued for a longer period of time, despite your complaints to your employer - that can count as sexual harassment.
Quid Pro Quo & Hostile Work Environment
Although there are numerous specific forms of sexual harassment, California courts have generally classified the large majority of instances into two broad categories (when the employer is liable) - quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
The term "quid pro quo" derives from Latin and means "this for that." Its legal usage in English is for a proposal or threat from an employer or supervisor to a worker wherein sexual or romantic favors are demanded in return for an employment benefit of some kind OR in return for not getting hit with a negative employment action.
Examples of quid pro quo could include: a threat from a supervisor to fire a female employee if she will not sleep with him, a promise to give a worker a raise if she goes on a date, or an offer to promote a worker if she starts and continues a sexual relationship. Quid pro quo offers can be communicated verbally, but they may sometimes use implications and veiled language or innuendos and/or body language or physical touching of some kind. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a very serious offense and can lead to major consequences against any employer found guilty of it.
Creation or toleration by an employer of a workplace where sexual harassment routinely takes place is called "hostile work environment sexual harassment." When workers are subjected to intimidation, ridicule, unwanted sexual touching, and other forms of sexual harassment and the employer will not correct the situation when victims complain, that employer can become liable for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
However, a single act is not a hostile work environment legally, in most cases. The harassment must be sufficiently severe and/or pervasive enough. The direct victims do not have to file the suit for a hostile work environment - anyone who was present in such a work environment for a long enough period of time can file the complaint with the California Fair Employment & Housing Department.
Specific Types of Harassment & Discrimination
Aside from the general categories of quid pro quo and hostile work environment, there are many specific varieties of sexual harassment and discrimination that take place in California workplaces. Employers, supervisors, coworkers, and even customers or other non-workers can be guilty of this kind of behavior. Or, a customer could be harassed by an employee.
When the owner commits the act or a supervisor does so, the employer is automatically liable under California law. But only if the employer is negligent to correct bad behavior of a "mere employee" will the employer become liable - otherwise, the employee will be personally liable. Also, if an employer fails to follow regulations on prevention of sexual harassment such as providing sexual harassment training to employees, that also makes it more likely the employer could be held liable.
Sexual harassment can take any of the following forms:
- Unwanted touching. This can be extreme as in grabbing a crotch, genitals, or woman's breasts; or it can be touching the but, rubbing the thighs, or in some contexts even touching the shoulders. The intention of the touching has to be ascertained if it's not obviously sexual in nature.
- Verbal sexual harassment. Sometimes, people overtly make sexually explicit or derogatory comments or make strong innuendos. Or, sexual verbal harassment could even be veiled in humor and jokes.
- Non-verbal harassment. Gestures like the middle finger or other non-verbal cues can be used to harass someone and try to intimidate or pressure that person to have sex. Or, it might be a matter of making fun of someone's sexual parts.
- Display of sexually explicit images at one's work cubicle for all to see or directly showing it to someone. Or it could such images are shared on social media sites or on smartphones where the receiving party finds them unwelcome.
- Emails, texts, and other computerized or written messages can also be used as a means of communicating sexually harassing content.
Workplace discrimination can also take many forms, such as basing hiring or not hiring of applicants, firing, promotions or lack thereof, demotions, pay cuts or raises, benefits packages, work details, level of disciplinary measures, and other work related actions on illegitimate grounds.
Common bases for workplace discrimination include:
- Race or ethnicity.
- Immigration status or country of national origin.
- Sex (gender).
- Military or veteran status.
- Marital status.
- Sexual orientation.
- Physical or mental disabilities.
- Religious beliefs.
Sexual harassment is really sex-based harassment and thus is a special case of discrimination and illegal targeting. But any and all forms of harassment or discrimination on non work related bases is illegal and can form the basis of a compensatory and/or punitive lawsuit against the liable party.
Wrongful Termination, Constructive Discharge, & Employer Retaliation
Many times, employers in California advertise themselves as "at will employers" as if that prevents them from being sued for firing someone regardless of the reason for the firing. But in fact, this just isn't the case. If you have an employment contract which was violated when you were fired, then that's a wrongful termination - and an at will employer without an employment contract can't be susceptible to that kind of wrongful termination suit.
But, all employers in California must abide by federal and state law in their hiring and firing practices. If you are fired due to sexual harassment or discrimination, you have a valid basis for a lawsuit regardless of whether or not you had an employment contract.
Also, if your employer targeted you to force you to quit by making your work environment unbearable - that is called "constructive discharge" and is the same as a wrongful firing as far as the law is concerned - if you can prove it. This is a special case of a hostile work environment, but the difference is that a particular person was targeted specifically and for the express purpose of making him/her quit so as to try to evade a wrongful termination violation.
Finally, many are fired, demoted, have their pay rates cut, or suffer other negative employment actions as a form of employer retaliation. This is also illegal and becomes the basis for a new lawsuit. Often, if you file for sexual harassment, expose health and safety violations, or take any action against your employer for wrongdoing, your employer will retaliate by firing you or in some other way. If this occurs, you can win the retaliation suit even if you don't win the underlying sexual harassment lawsuit for which the employer retaliated.
Employers Must Take Steps to Prevent Sexual Harassment
In California, employer risk becoming liable for sexual harassment committed by their employees against coworkers if they fail to follow state regulations on sexual harassment training and prevention measures. Under the Fair Employment & Housing Act, employers must provide 2 hours of sexual harassment training that follows specific instructions to all new employees (within 6 months of hiring them.) Then, they have to also provide 2 hours of such training every 2 years or more to all of their work force.
Additionally, employers must distribute literature and information on creating a harassment free work environment and that educates employees on their rights regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. A poster from the Fair Employment & Housing Department must also be posted in a prominent location in the workplace.
Currently, all employers of 50 or more people must provide sexual harassment training. There is currently, in 2018, legislation that may make this requirement apply to all employers of 5 or more workers. And there are other new laws in the works that may further strengthen anti-sexual harassment legislation in California.
What to Do If You Become a Victim of Sexual Harassment or Discrimination
There are specific steps you should take if you believe you have become the victim of workplace discrimination or sexual harassment. First of all, you should complain to the violator and to your employer. Your employer should correct the situation in a reasonable amount of time. If that doesn't happen or if it's as quid pro quo or other extreme violation by your employer him or her self, then you should contact a sexual harassment lawyer without delay.
Make sure your complaints to your employer are in written form and you keep a copy for yourself. Also, your lawyer will give you detailed instruction on how to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) -the next step - if necessary. Be aware you must file within one year from the date of the last incident involved in the sexual harassment or your case will expire - go past the statute of limitations that is.
The DFEH will have up to 60 days to investigate and consider your complaint. They may decide to pursue the matter themselves and try to begin negotiation for a settlement with your employer. Or, they may not and instead give you a legal note allowing for "permission to sue." This allows you to pursue the matter in court yourself even if the DFEH doesn't think you have a good case.
If your employer or a coworker defendant refuses to settle, then it's time to go to court and try to win a judgment instead.
Contact Us Today for Help!
If you are an accountant who has suffered sexual harassment from your employer, a supervisor, or a co-worker OR if you are a client who has been sexually harassed by an accountant you hired, you are not alone. We are here to help and to ensure you receive the full benefit of the law.
At Sexual Harassment Lawyer, we have won millions of dollars in settlements and judgments for our numerous other past clients. We have a strong track record of success, and we will know how to win your case.
Contact us anytime 24/7/365 by calling 800-905-1856 for a free, no obligation consultation and immediate attention to your needs!