Sexual assault within workplace environments violates both state and federal laws. While this is the case, the regularity of such crimes is shocking. Workplace harassment and assault subject victims to a toxic work environment where they cannot do their jobs and continually suffer emotionally and psychologically. Sometimes, victims opt to leave their job altogether to dodge offensive behavior from their perpetrators. Other times, perpetrators threaten to fire their victims if they resist them or take legal action. If you are a victim of workplace sexual assault, we invite you to contact Stop Unpaid Wages. We are seasoned employment attorneys in California and fully understand how sexual assault can ruin the lives of victims on both a personal and professional level.
If a sexual assault incident has left you with lost wages, we can help. Taking decisive legal steps to protect yourself can help remedy a situation. Let’s discuss your issue as soon as possible and provide legal guidance about the best steps to take. Note that we value confidentiality, and any information you provide during the consultation will remain under lock and key.
Harassment vs. Sexual Assault — What You Need To Know
When it comes to legal issues, terminologies matter, the terms sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and sexual assault are often used interchangeably, although they all mean different things.
If you intend to pursue a matter legally in the quest for justice, you must understand the legal definitions of different crimes. The idea is to know the laws various offenses fall under as well as the possible punishment.
Sexual harassment in workplaces is a form of discrimination. According to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), this offense violates the Civil Rights Act Title VII. The legal definition of sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances that discriminate against a victim based on gender or sexual orientation.
There are two classifications of workplace sexual harassment. They include:
Quid Pro Quo
Sexual harassment that involves power imbalances is termed quid pro quo. Some of the best examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment include advances between a recruiter and a candidate for a specific job position or a supervisor and an employee.
Often, quid pro quo offenses involve the superior employee asking the junior one for a sexual favor in exchange for a specific work benefit. For instance, a supervisor can demand a sexual favor in exchange for:
- Pay rises
- Favorable assignments
- Better work shifts
- Job security
- A guaranteed work position
Quid pro quo often happens in the shape of “sexual favors for work benefits.” However, it could also occur in the form of threats. For example, a supervisor could threaten to give an employee a bad performance review that denies them a promotion if they refuse a specific sexual favor. In severe cases, the superior employee threatens to fire a junior employee if they don’t accept their advances.
Hostile Work Environment
One incident is enough to file a quid pro quo harassment case. However, an offense needs to be repetitive for a victim to file a hostile work environment lawsuit.
A hostile work environment is also sexual harassment, although it has a more profound definition. The law describes this offense as an unwanted and repeated behavior that distresses a victim to the point of creating an intimidating work environment that hinders them from performing their duties.
Often, hostile work environment cases are sexually motivated. However, victims can also file a lawsuit if the offense stems from their gender or sexual orientation.
Here are some examples of hostile work environment sexual harassment:
- Offensive comments or jokes about the victim’s sexuality
- Sexual innuendo
- Unwanted flirting and sexual attention
- Sending undesirable and inappropriate pictures or texts
- Sexual misconduct and unwanted touch such as rubbing, hugging, and groping
- Persistent yet unwanted flirting or invitations to dates
Because the laws describe hostile work environments as unwanted repetitive offenses, victims must gather evidence to build a strong case.
Sexual harassment offenses are filed under civil lawsuits. However, sexual assault is a graver offense that falls under criminal law. The law describes sexual assault as any form of unwanted and unconsented sexual, physical contact.
Under California Penal Code 261.6, the law defines consent as the ability of a person to act voluntarily and freely with the complete understanding of the nature of a sexual act. Generally, if a person cannot explicitly agree to a sexual act mentally or physically, they are not in a position to give consent.
For instance, you cannot obtain consent from an unconscious person or a victim who is distressed, intoxicated, or under the influence of drugs. Moreover, you don’t automatically assume permission is granted because you are in a romantic relationship, not even a marriage.
The terms sexual assault and rape are often used interchangeably. However, it is crucial to note that some forms of sexual assault don’t necessarily involve penetration. They include acts like touching, fondling, groping, kissing, or forcing the victim to touch your body part.
Sexual assault within workplaces can happen to both women and men. Victims undergo a traumatic experience, making it essential to seek legal remedies.
Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Abuse
Sexual misconduct is a blanket term that implies just about any form of unwanted sexual activity. This includes all kinds of sexual harassment and assault. On the other hand, sexual abuse is a form of sexual assault. The legal definition of sexual abuse is any unwanted, sexually motivated action intended to cause discomfort or pain to a victim.
Like in sexual assault, a sexually motivated action is considered sexual abuse when a perpetrator lacks their victim’s consent. Within the workplace, sexual abuse often happens where there is a power imbalance between the involved parties.
Victims of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse undergo a traumatic experience. It is essential to study your workplace’s sexual harassment policies immediately after an incident takes place. After this, make sure you file a formal complaint addressed to the appropriate leaders within your company.
Are Employers Responsible For Workplace Assault?
Under California and federal laws, employers are legally responsible for any form of workplace harassment by a supervisor that leads to victims suffering economic damages. Some of the damages caused by workplace harassment and assault include:
- Denied promotion opportunities
- Denied employment
- Wrongful termination
- Lost wages due to missed workdays caused by trauma or stigma
Fortunately, employers can avoid bearing responsibility for an incident caused by the actions of their supervisors. Here is what an employer must prove:
- They took reasonable effort to prevent further advances and rectify the unlawful behavior
- The victim of an incident did not report a matter or follow the employer’s sexual harassment policies to prevent, correct or remedy the situation.
Note that workplace harassment is not limited to situations where there is a hierarchy of power. It can also be conducted by non-supervisors, mainly between employees of similar job duties. Any form of harassment or assault creates a hostile work environment and affects the victim personally and professionally. This makes it the responsibility of an employer to rectify the situation immediately.
It is illegal to tolerate any form of sexual violence within the workplace. Employers can reduce liability by investing in training programs and setting up clear policies that combat sexual harassment. The first step to creating a safe work environment for all employees is to create awareness about sexual violence.
Who Can Sue For Sexual Assault?
If you are a victim of workplace sexual assault, you have a right to sue for damages. While sexual assault is a sex crime punishable under the criminal system, the offense also gives grounds for a civil lawsuit. Note that you can pursue compensation for damages even if the perpetrator of a crime is yet to be charged or convicted. Generally, you can file a civil lawsuit as long as you have suffered damages.
As a victim of sexual assault, you are entitled to both punitive and compensatory damages. Some of the damages you may recover include:
- Medical expenses (in case of a violent crime like rape)
- Psychological counseling
- Pain and suffering
- Trauma and traumatic distress
- Lost wages
- Lost earning potential (in case of a denied promotion)
- Insomnia and anxiety
Moreover, the spouses or registered domestic partners of workplace sexual assault victims can seek compensation for the loss of consortium. Often, an incident causes so much trauma that a victim may not provide intimacy or moral support to their partners because of the upsetting actions of a perpetrator.
Sometimes, the victims of sexual assault don’t report an offense to law enforcement. They opt to follow company sexual harassment reporting protocols hoping that their employers will take appropriate action.
Unlike sexual harassment, sexual assault is a physical offense. This makes it crucial for you to file a criminal lawsuit against your perpetrator. The law enforcement officers treat sexual assault victims with dignity and are often helpful during investigations, whether or not you decide to file criminal charges.
When filing a criminal lawsuit, the burden of proof is higher. The prosecution must prove that you were sexually assaulted by the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the standards are lower in a civil court. In this case, we only have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you suffered damages because of harassment or assault from the defendant.
We specialize in handling sexual assault civil lawsuits. With our help, you have the best chances of recovering financial damages stemming from workplace sexual assault. Call us today and let us discuss your case in more detail.
What Employers Should Do To Reduce Workplace Sexual Assault
With the upsurge of the #MeToo movement, workplace sexual harassment and assault claims have returned to the national spotlight. As aforementioned, employers are automatically responsible for sexual violence incidents that happen within their workplace.
Here are three basic strategies your employer can use to limit their liability for workplace sexual assault:
Set Up Strong Policies Against Sexual Harassment
Often sexual assault stems from perpetrators feeling comfortable with their sexual harassment offenses that go unpunished. Therefore, strengthening company sexual harassment policies could go a long way in preventing incidents and generally protecting sexual assault victims. A policy that protects employees from sexual harassment must:
Prohibit All Forms of Workplace Sexual Violence
As you scan through your employer’s anti-harassment policy, you need to ensure it’s solid. Generally, it must prohibit all forms of workplace sexual violence and all other conducts that create a basis for discrimination. A proper policy should contain more than just anti-sexual harassment policies. It must also prohibit discrimination based on someone’s race, religion, disability, or ethnicity. A policy that protects its employees fully must show that the company prohibits all forms of harassment.
Eliminate Legal Jargon and Use Plain Terms
An employer may still be responsible for an incident if the perpetrator of an offense claims that they did not understand the terms used on the policy. Hence a solid policy must include basic examples that demonstrate unacceptable conduct based on the company’s workplace policies and culture.
Focus On More Than Just Legally Prohibited Actions
Unfortunately, sexual harassment and assault incidents become legally actionable only after they turn from bad to pervasive. By the time victims can file lawsuits, an offense may already have taken its toll on their personal and professional lives.
Therefore, a policy designed to protect its employees must focus on more than just the legal definition of sexual harassment. Employers must clarify that they have no intention of turning a blind eye to even “minor” claims. Essentially, good policies encourage employees to report harassment before it turns into full-blown sexual assault.
Include Classic Examples of Sexual Harassment Incidents
Again, it may not be enough for a policy only to give the legal definition of sexual assault. Employers must take these definitions a notch higher and provide classic examples of conduct not tolerated within their establishment. The policy must remain gender-neutral and begin with basic models on common offenses such as persistent unwanted flirting.
Cast a Wide Net
It is also crucial for workplace anti-harassment policies to have a sufficient scope that prohibits sexual violence and, by extension, protects all employees. The idea is to illegalize sexual misconduct by any company representative, irrespective of their title. A proper policy must also extend to third parties such as clients or vendors.
Cover Sexual Misconduct outside the Workplace
Typically conduct between co-workers outside the workplace can quickly infuse into the work environment. This makes it imperative for anti-harassment policies also to prohibit sexual misconduct during company-sponsored social events. Most importantly, a fair policy must clarify that disciplinary action will be taken against employees who make social media posts that create unnecessary problems for other team members.
Create A Smooth Sexual Harassment Complaint Process
Choosing to work only for companies with a solid anti-harassment policy is essential. It is also crucial to ensure your employer has set a streamlined process that employees can follow if they witness or are subjected to workplace sexual harassment. As an employee, you have a right to feel safe raising complaints and being heard without retaliation.
Here are a few steps employers can take to spruce up their sexual harassment complaint processes:
Explain Who Can Raise a Sexual Harassment/Assault Complaint
If you suffer workplace sexual harassment or assault, it is natural to recoil from raising a complaint because of stigma. This makes it imperative for company policies to expressively explain that anyone who witnesses sexual misconduct within the workplace can submit a complaint. Any victim of sexual misconduct or anyone who sees or becomes aware of conduct that violates the company’s anti-sexual harassment policies can report an incident.
Put In Place Multiple Methods of Reporting an Incident
An effective anti-sexual harassment policy will provide several alternatives for employees to report improper sexual conduct. For instance, your employer should allow employees to report an incident to their supervisor, the human resource manager, or any other available/easily approachable member of management.
If company policies force you to report sexual harassment to one person, your employer may still be liable for incidents of sexual violence. This is more so if you are supposed to report harassment to the primary perpetrator of an offense.
Apart from your employer allowing you to report an incident to various members of the management, the company may also set up a message board or tip line that will enable employees to report anonymously. Note that your employer remains liable for any incidents of workplace sexual violence as long as they have an ineffective system of reporting sexual harassment.
Conduct Fair Investigations into All Complaints
Again, you are likely to be on the losing end as an employer if your employees can prove that you don’t take reports seriously. Employers have to conduct fair investigations into all issues and ensure that all parties feel protected, including the accused, the victim, and witnesses. Proper investigations allow you to have a clear picture of a situation and decide the best course of action before a matter grows from sexual harassment into sexual assault.
Make Statements with Corrective Actions
Justice delayed is justice denied. That said, it is necessary to begin investigations as soon as someone reports a matter. Also, it is crucial to take proper corrective action to reaffirm your stand on sexual harassment. This is irrespective of whether the subject reported amounts to “minor” sexual misconduct, hostile work environment, or sexual harassment.
Again, taking the proper steps before a matter goes from bad to worse is essential. If an action warrants the termination of an employee, you must follow through with the appropriate corrective action to discourage other potential offenders.
Set Up Strong Policies That Prohibit Retaliation
Sometimes, the evidence gathered after investigations are not conclusive. This makes it unfair for employers to take any corrective actions against the accused. If you are in this kind of situation, contact us immediately for a reevaluation of your case. Furthermore, the company policies must prohibit the alleged offender from retaliating against you for reporting their offensive actions.
A proper anti-retaliation policy must:
Cast a Wide Protective Net
Even though sexual harassment happens between two people (the accused and the victim), more people are involved during investigations. Therefore, a solid anti-retaliation policy must protect everyone involved and, most notably, an alleged victim. If they must work under the same supervisor, they must not become subject to bad-mouthing, removal from important projects, or other forms of workplace discrimination.
Protect the Accused Too
Even in the workplace, an employee is not guilty of sexual harassment or assault until evidence gathered during investigations can prove this much is true. Sometimes, a sexual misconduct complaint is based on a misunderstanding or even ulterior motives. If you are accused of workplace sexual harassment but cleared from fault, you must also be afforded the same protections as victims.
A sexual harassment complaint against you can quickly tarnish your reputation, turning you into a victim of a hostile work environment. Again, company policies should prevent other employees from retaliating by treating you differently after someone raises a complaint. The work of a solid anti-harassment policy is to protect all company employees.
Explain Who Can Raise a Retaliation Complaint
Anyone who is subjected to or witnesses retaliation can come forward and raise a complaint. Retaliation complaints must not be treated differently from the process of reporting the initial sexual harassment/ assault complaint. Again, it is crucial for victims, the accused, and witnesses to feel protected under a company’s policies.
Use Clear Examples to Define What Constitutes Retaliation
The best company anti-harassment policies are foolproof. Your employer must use dead-simple examples of actions that amount to retaliation. This ensures that accusers, witnesses, and even the accused understand that the company doesn’t tolerate retaliation. A section of the policy must contain clauses that define the corrective actions in place if someone raises a complaint with merit.
If you are sexually harassed or assaulted at your workplace, your first step should be to report the incident to the appropriate authorities within your company. Unfortunately, doing this may not be possible if your employer lacks solid anti-harassment policies. If you are in such a situation, contact us immediately for much-needed legal assistance.
Find An Workplace Sexual Assault Attorney Near Me
Sexual harassment and assault in California cause devastating pain and suffering to the victims. Unfortunately, it is also common for perpetrators to retaliate against their victims once they report an incident. This rubs salt in the wound, forcing victims to miss workdays if they are “lucky” not to be fired. At Stop Unpaid Wages, we have extensive experience investigating sexual assault cases. We treat our clients with compassion and help you recover compensation for lost wages and other damages following workplace sexual assault. Contact us today at 424-781-8411 for a free, no-obligation consultation.