What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?
In the wake of the #metoo movement, much of the public has been left to wonder what behavior qualifies as sexual harassment in the workplace under California’s labor law and what steps a worker can take to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment generally is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to all employers who employ more than 15 people. This includes state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations and even the federal government.
What acts qualify as sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment acts include:
- unwelcome sexual advances
- requests for sexual favors
- verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
When these actions take place during work or affect an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment it is sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances where there are unwanted actions against the victim. Harassment is not limited by past stereotypes. For example
- Harassment is not limited to being committed by a male against a female. The victim as well as the harasser may be male or female, man or woman and the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser does not have to be a boss or the victim’s supervisor. A harasser can be a supervisor in another area of the company, a co-worker, someone acting as an agent of the employer, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person targeted by the harassment but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur even when there is not economic or “money” damages.
What are steps you can take when confronted with harassment in the workplace?
If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the person who is harassing you to stop.
If you do not feel comfortable confronting the harasser directly, or if the behavior does not stop, follow the steps below outlined below by the EEOC:
- Check if your employer has an anti-harassment policy. This may be on the employer’s website. If it’s not, check your employee handbook. Finally, you can ask any supervisor (it does not have to be your supervisor) or someone in Human Resources (if your employer has an HR department) whether there is an anti-harassment policy and if so, to give you a copy.a) If there is a policy, follow the steps in the policy. The policy should give you various options for reporting the harassment, including the option of filing a complaint.b) If there is no policy, talk with a supervisor. You can talk with your own supervisor, the supervisor of the person who is harassing you, or any supervisor in the organization. Explain what has happened and ask for that person’s help in getting the behavior to stop.
- The law protects you from retaliation (punishment) for complaining about harassment. You have a right to report harassment, participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit, or oppose harassment, without being retaliated against for doing so.
If you believe you have been subject to sexual harassment at your workplace, it is imperative to protect yourself and contacting an attorney may better help you understand your rights as a worker.