A co-worker from another department continuously asks you out even though you've indicated you are not interested. They begin bringing you small gifts which you feel uncomfortable declining, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to move around the workplace without running into the individual and their advances. These actions by your co-worker are a form of sexual harassment.
If you have repeatedly asked or indicated to this individual their attention is making you uncomfortable, you should report them to your supervisor. If the supervisor takes no action, or there is no one higher to report this action to; you should seek legal representation. Furthermore, if you have sued for sexual harassment and your wages have been withheld due to the pending lawsuit, you need to contact a firm such as Stop Unpaid Wages who can help retrieve your unpaid wages.
What is Sexual Harassment?
It can sometimes be difficult to identify sexual harassment in the workplace, as there is no evidence pointing to wages being lowered, promotions getting passed over, or having been fired for rejection of the attention. Sexual harassment is a form of bullying with sexual undertones. It is the unwelcome or inappropriate attention bestowed on you by a co-worker or someone in a position higher than yours.
Sexual harassment can happen in a variety of settings such as school, church, or other social gathering places. When this harassment occurs at work, it becomes more difficult to avoid as you cannot just get up and leave the premises. There is no gender specific as to who commits sexual harassment or suffers from it more; victims and harassers can be from either gender.
Is Sexual Harassment Illegal?
In the modern legal context, yes, sexual harassment is illegal. The law does not protect you from simple forms of teasing or offhanded comments if they are done as isolated incidents. These incidents fall under what is called 'general civility code,' and are not considered harassment. If the actions increase in frequency or intensity; then you have grounds for filing a sexual harassment claim.
California Sexual Harassment Laws
California expanded the definition of sexual harassment in 2013 when Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill which states 'Sexual harassment conduct does not need to be motivated by sexual desire.' His bill overruled the decision by California Court of Appeals in the Kelly vs. The Conco Companies. This case involved having the plaintiff in a same-sex harassment dispute shows the incidents were motivated by sexual desire. The decision in the case was interpreted as a requirement for sexual harassment there must be sexual desire or intent.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is sex discrimination and it violates the law. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1954, you are protected against this form of harassment in the workplace according to California's Fair Employment and Housing Act. Sexual harassment can be defined as the unwelcome sexual advances no matter if they are physical, verbal, or visual. If the actions create an intimidating or hostile environment for you in your workplace, they are considered illegal sexual harassment.
According to Governor Brown's bill, the conduct does not need to be motivated by sexual desire; it need only be based on your actual or perceived sex identity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, or related medical conditions. It is also defined under California law to include offensive behavior involving gender-based harassment or a person of the same sex as the harasser. Gender is not an issue as long as it is proven the actions are creating a hostile work environment for the victim.
The Two Forms of Sexual Harassment
There are two forms of sexual harassment defined under Title VII:
- Hostile Work Environment
- Quid pro Quo
Hostile work environment harassment is considered when the conduct of another is unwelcome by you and is based on sex. The behavior is pervasive or severe enough to make you feel it has become abusive and making your work environment offensive. Some of the conditions that are present in consideration of a hostile work environment include:
- Conduct that is either or both physical or verbal
- The conduct was directed at one singled-out victim or more than one individual
- The conduct is considered to be patently offensive or hostile
- How often the actions are being conducted
- The offender is or was a co-worker or supervisor
- If others partook in the harassment
Quid pro Quo harassment is defined as a person in authority over the plaintiff demands that they accept sexual harassment as a part of their job. The person in authority indicates that by accepting this form of harassment, they can keep their job or receive a type of job benefits such as a promotion or a raise. There need only be one incident involving Quid pro Quo for you to take action, where hostile work environment harassment requires a pattern of behavior be established.
As the plaintiff of a sexual harassment charge, you will have to show:
- You believed the harassment was offensive, abusive, and hostile
- Any other person in your position would have found the same actions to be offensive, abusive, and hostile
What are Your Options if a Victim of Sexual Harassment?
If you have suffered in your workplace due to sexual harassment, you have options under California law. These are the actions open to you for finding support in fighting this conduct:
- Check the policies for your company on how they deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. It often requires you to put your complaint in writing making a note of the dates the incidents occurred, time of day they happened, and any people involved in the event or events.
- Inform management, or any person you are responsible for reporting to before filing any type of complaint. Most policies require that you make a report of the conduct to your employer before submitting a claim as it may impact your chances of pursuing a remedy against them.
- Contact a legal representative to file a complaint with the proper state or federal agency. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is a state agency set up to protect citizens from unlawful discrimination of any kind in their employment. If someone has violated your civil rights, this department can pursue damages for you.
- Once your case is evaluated, it may be sent on for further investigation. The party responsible for harassing you will be required to respond to your complaint. If their response is unsatisfactory, or it is determined they've violated the law, your case will move on to mediation or possibly as a lawsuit. Your legal advisor will be able to advise you of the steps necessary from this point.
Can You Stop Sexual Harassment?
As a victim of sexual harassment, you are expected to attempt stopping the offender's actions towards you. Legal standards do expect victims to make an effort to put an end to sexual harassment behaviors towards them. Several levels of escalation can be employed to make this attempt:
The first step is to speak up, especially if you are claiming a hostile work environment. It is believed some parties are not aware they are being offensive, and if you point out their behaviors and advances make you uncomfortable, they will cease. Many times this can put to an end to the offender's action as they do not want to create further tension in the workplace. If your speaking out does not put an end to the behavior, you have at least put the offender on notice.
The second step is to follow your company's policy or procedures for handling sexual harassment in the workplace. This issue has been a growing concern, and almost all businesses have a set of rules regarding this form of bullying in their establishment.
Follow the rules to the letter including keeping track of the time limits set for filing such claims. You must also report to the right party as most company's assign a specific representative to handle these forms of complaints. If this is the case with your employer, you must make your report to the correct party.
If there is no specific representative in your employment, you should speak with your immediate supervisor. If this is the party who is offending you with sexual harassment, you will have to go the party to whom this supervisor reports to. Your report should include dates the incidents occurred, the time of day they happened, any persons involved in the event or events, and what words were used during the harassment.
The third step will be to file an administrative charge if the first two steps have not ended the harassment. With the help of legal counsel, you can file a complaint with the appropriate government agency which deals in discrimination cases. If the agency cannot resolve your dispute but does agree there are grounds for a valid claim, you can work with your attorney to move onto litigation.
The fourth step occurs after the appropriate government agency has established you have a 'right to sue' and are able to bring a civil lawsuit to court. In a civil suit, you can sue your offender for any injuries suffered due to the harassment. Typically in a sexual harassment case, there are not any physical injuries, they are emotional traumas sustained by you. If you win your case, you can be entitled to:
- The return of your employment if it was lost during this process
- Back pay if you lost money or were denied a raise resulting from these proceedings. The amount of back pay will multiply by three times the amount.
- Your employer will be required to implement policies in the workplace designated specifically on stopping workplace harassment
- You can recover any legal fees you were forced to pay
- You may receive compensation for any emotional distress the harassment caused you
- If you lost any fringe benefits as a result of your filing, they would have to be reinstated
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you should contact legal counsel to ensure your rights are protected.
The Different Forms of Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is not the only form of discrimination you may face in the workplace. While sexual harassment is the most common, there are other forms of harassing behavior you can encounter. A general definition of harassing behavior is the action, whether verbal or physical, that creates a hostile workplace environment.
Other types of harassment in the workplace include:
- National Origin, Religion, Sex, or Race
- Political beliefs
- Gender identification
- Sexual orientation and marital status
- Criminal history
- Smoker and nonsmoker
- Citizenship status
- Occupation or source of income
Different state and local governments put in place their own statutes or codes designed to protect citizens against the many forms of harassments. There are also different criteria that define harassment such as:
- A form of national-origin harassment could be someone hanging a photo, picture, or poster of an activist or political leader which negatively reflects people of that nation. Any form of ethic disturbance placed in the viewing area of your workplace that indicates to you a negative influence upon people of your country is a form of national-origin harassment, and it does not have to be tolerated.
- If you are continuously preached to about a different religion than the one you follow can also be considered religious discrimination.
- One state court found it was harassing in nature for an employer to place Christian-themed messages along with verses from the Bible on their paychecks.
- Racial comments used to describe a group of people negatively can constitute racial harassment even if they are not directed at you specifically.
If you've suffered emotional trauma due to any form of harassment at your workplace, you need to seek legal counsel to discuss your options for compensation.
Filing a Complaint for Sexual Harassment
You are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and have the right to work without prejudice or harassment based on your age, gender, national origin, religion or any of the protected categories listed above. The EEOC is a federal agency which handles mostly federal employment discrimination claims but is also available for employees in other sectors.
Some people may feel intimated when having to deal with a federal agency, however; the EEOC is there to protect your rights to work without discrimination or intimidation. These are some of the questions you may have regarding the EEOC's role in handling sexual harassment claims that may help you understand how they can help you:
- What is the EEOC?
They are the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and an agency part of the Executive Branch of the United States Government. This agency was put into place in 1965 with their primary function consisting of handling federal employee promotions of equality. They handle mainly federal workplace discrimination cases but also enforce federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Equal Pay Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Act of 1991, and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
- What is the role of an Administrative Judge?
An administrative judge is an employee of the EEOC who determines if discrimination complaints of federal employees are valid. These judges are highly skilled attorneys with knowledge of the federal sector hearing process. They have a full understanding of the federal laws regarding harassment charges and will ensure your case receives fair and expeditious processing.
- What is an EEOC Hearing?
An EEOC hearing is much like a trial before a judge at your courthouse. The administrative judge is both the judge and the jury of the hearing. While the proceeding is mostly informal, all parties involved are permitted to make both opening and closing statements on behalf of their claim. You and your attorney are allowed to present witness testimony and evidence, and there is cross-examination just as in a courthouse trial.
- Should You have an Attorney at Your Hearing?
- While it is not required to be represented by your attorney, this hearing bears great importance, and it is to your advantage to have knowledgeable legal counsel to ensure your rights are protected.
- Do I have to go through a Hearing to Receive Compensation?
No, you do not have to go through a hearing, you do have an option of accepting a settlement. You and your attorney can discuss methods and means of resolving your dispute at any stage of the proceedings. You have to realize; you will be expected to make some sort of compromise when agreeing to a settlement outside of a hearing.
If you and your attorney are able to reach a settlement with the offending party, you will be required to execute a written settlement agreement and have it delivered to the Administrative Judge. The Judge can then allow both parties to go on record as having settled the disagreement.
- What if I don't Speak English?
If you do not speak or understand English and have the need for an interpreter, you can make a request to the Administrative Judge to have one present for you. If the Judge finds your application appropriate, it can be ordered to have an interpreter present during your hearing.
The EEOC has limits to what they can provide in remedies and protections. There is a cap or maximum monetary penalty you can claim as damages when filing a sexual harassment or discrimination charge. You might be eligible for punitive damages if your employer displayed conduct proven to be evil in motive. The employer can also be held accountable for any intent that involved callous or reckless indifference when responsible for protecting the rights of others.
Having an attorney on your side when filing an EEOC claim is important. These claims can become complicated, and the party you are charging will most likely have legal counsel advising them through the proceedings. You want your rights protected with the strongest legal defense possible to ensure you receive justice.
You Don't Have to Suffer Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is prohibited, and you are protected against having to work under those forms of abuse under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This form of harassment is an ugly and unwelcome part of today's work environment, but it does not have to continue, and it is your right to fight and stop these actions.
There are different forms of sexual harassment, but the underlying fact is that no matter what form it takes, it's traumatizing and stressful. These experiences can leave you with emotional scars and are a severe detriment to your work life.
The harassment doesn't have to be obvious or blatant, it sometimes comes out as subtle but builds up over time. Sexual harassment often takes the form of a pattern developing over time with unwanted and offensive conduct and comments. A few key things to remember about sexual harassment:
- The harasser can be a boss, contractor, non-employee, or co-worker
- Gender is not relevant to be considered sexual harassment
- You should never encourage or welcome any form of harassing conduct
- Not all offensive, rude, or ugly behavior is deemed to be sexual harassment- the harassment must fall under one of the legally protected classes
- You do not have to be the targeted victim of the harassment to file a claim
You don't have to suffer sexual harassment. If you feel threatened, offended, or harassed in your workplace, contact legal counsel to put a stop to the actions.
Where is the Best Legal Defense for Sexual Harassment Near Me?
If you or someone important to you has suffered or is suffering from sexual harassment in the workplace and are due unpaid wages by the employer, you need to seek legal counsel. Call Stop Unpaid Wages at 424-781-8411 and find out what your rights are, how to protect them, and how to retrieve the wages that have been withheld. Contact our labor law attorney for a free consultation.