California state law prohibits employers from harassing any employee, applicant, independent contractor, or unpaid intern or volunteer on the basis of their sex or gender. If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (Govt. Code § 12940), also called the “FEHA,” may give you the right to file a civil lawsuit for monetary damages against your employer.
If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to act quickly, as your time to pursue your civil remedies in court is limited. California law requires claims for sexual harassment to be filed within three (3) years of the most recent incident of sexually harassing behavior, and other, shorter administrative deadlines also may apply in your particular case.
In general, California law prohibits certain kinds of inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct directed at a worker or job applicant. Unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace is generally divided into two categories: (1) “quid pro quo” sexual harassment; and (2) sexual harassment that creates a “hostile work environment.” Persons of any sex or gender can be victims of sexual harassment, even when the harasser is a member of the same sex or gender, or identifies as the same sexual orientation as the victim.
Not every comment or incident of a sexual nature will rise to the level of prohibited sexual harassment under California law. Isolated or infrequent sexual remarks in the workplace may not be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Sexually charged comments must also be unwelcome to constitute either quid pro quo or hostile work environment sexual harassment, and sexual remarks that are welcomed or reciprocated by the employee to whom they are directed are not unlawful.
Sexual harassment creates an unlawful hostile work environment when it is unwelcome and so sufficiently “severe or pervasive” that it alters the worker or applicant’s “terms and conditions of employment.”
A variety of inappropriate and unwelcome conduct in the workplace may constitute sexual harassment, such as:
Sexual harassment in the workplace can result from unwelcome and offensive conduct by any employee, whether they are your manager, your supervisor, or a co-worker, as well as from unwelcome and offensive sex and/or gender-based comments or conduct by an employer’s clients, customers and certain other non-employees.
“Severe and pervasive” harassment is conduct that changes the victim’s conditions of employment and creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider hostile, intimidating, offensive, oppressive, or abusive. To decide whether sexual harassment is “severe or pervasive” enough to create a hostile work environment, a judge or jury considers all of the available facts and circumstances, such as:
Depending on how offensive or egregious it is, even a single incident of sexual harassment can be sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.
In the context of a hostile work environment claim, sexual harassment alters a worker or applicant’s terms or conditions of employment if a reasonable person subjected to the same conduct would find that the harassment changed their working conditions in a way that makes it more difficult to perform their job. Because your employer can use poor work performance as a reason for termination, it is extremely important to document and report sexual harassment to your employer when it occurs. If you are being sexually harassed by a co-worker, client, customer or other person who is not one of your employer’s managers or supervisors, documenting and reporting the harassment you are experiencing is also very important in order to put your employer on notice of that inappropriate conduct.
California law also prohibits employers from subjecting workers or applicants to quid pro quo (e.g., a “favor for a favor”) sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or boss makes unwanted sexual advances towards a worker or job applicant, and either directly or implicitly conditions a term of employment, a job benefit, or favorable working conditions on the worker or applicant’s acceptance of the supervisor’s unwanted sexual advance. Examples of prohibited quid pro quo sexual harassment include:
In addition to prohibiting workplace sexual harassment, California’s FEHA also prohibits employers from retaliating against any worker or applicant for reporting or complaining about sexual harassment. Under this law, California employers are barred from firing, demoting, suspending, or otherwise subjecting an employee to negative employment consequences because they made a good faith report or complaint about sexual harassment. Employers are also prohibited from refusing to hire a job applicant for reporting or complaining about sexual harassment.
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace and are concerned about the consequences of reporting that misconduct, we can assist you with the process of reporting harassment to your employer, taking steps to minimize the possibility of unlawful retaliation, and if need be, pursuing your civil remedies in court.
Labor Law PC’s experienced team of lawyers are dedicated to protecting the rights of California workers and ensuring that their voices are heard. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, whether as an employee, an independent contractor, or a job applicant, we can assist you. Our attorneys value and respect your privacy, and will work tirelessly to help you get the justice that you deserve. Call us today at (877) 77-LABOR for a free consultation.