The workplace requires constant and close interaction with your supervisors, co-workers, and subordinate employees. Relationships will develop ranging from strictly business to those that are more cordial. However, there can be times when the conduct of your officemates may go beyond what you deem appropriate for the workplace. You may feel that you have been sexually harassed but are unsure what conduct would constitute harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as employment discrimination consisting in unwelcome verbal or physical of a sexual nature. Here, we will give you a little bit of an overview of what constitutes sexual harassment in the state of California.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
There are two forms of sexual harassment. The first form of sexual harassment is known as quid pro quo (Latin for “this for that”) sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor or employer offers the employee some reward, work advantage or job benefits in exchange for sexual favors or acceptance of the harassment. Under California law, an employer will be held strictly liable for the sexual harassment committed by the supervisor, and will have no legal defense available in court. If successful in court, a plaintiff can recover:
- Lost wages and compensation of other economic losses
- Emotional distress damages
- Interest and attorney fees
- Punitive damages (if the employer’s officers, directors or managing agents knew of the harassment)
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
The second type of sexual harassment is Hostile Work Environment (HWE) sexual harassment. HWE harassment is harassment deemed so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. Supervisors, co-workers, or subordinate employees can engage in conduct that could lead to HWE liability for employers. The conduct does not have to be a recurring act; even a single overt act could can be so severe that a court finds that it created a hostile work environment. Alternatively, several subtle acts of harassment could be considered pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. In addition, an employee does not have to be the direct or intended target of the harassing conduct in order to file a claim. This means that if you witness a co-worker being sexually harassed, you would be able to file a claim for HWE sexual harassment. Like quid pro quo sexual harassment, if a supervisor is found liable for harassment, the employer will be held strictly liable for the harassment of the supervisor. If a co-worker or subordinate employee perpetrates the harassment, the employer will only be held liable if a supervisor knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.
Sexual harassment can be embarrassing or difficult to confront, especially for fe that your employer might retaliate against you for complaining about sexual harassment at work or filing a claim with the Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, California law ensures the protection of employees from sexual harassment in the workplace and from retaliation for having resisted, complained about or reported sexual harassment. If you feel that you have been sexually harassed, or retaliated against for standing up against sexual harassment in the workplace,contact the Law Office of George G. Romain today.