Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: What California Laws Say
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and California has laws prohibiting this. Here’s everything to know about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Did you know that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment of some kind?
For 38% of women, this harassment occurs in the workplace.
What’s more, workplace harassment tends to be more severe, often taking the form of assault. All states in the U.S., including California, prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace.
But what does California state law actually say about workplace harassment?
In this post, we break down California sexual harassment laws.
Keep reading so that you can be prepared to take your next legal step if you think you are being sexually harassed!
What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment occurs when an individual receives unwanted or unsolicited sexual attention or advances from another person.
Workplace sexual harassment occurs specifically in a work environment. However, sexual harassment can take place in any environment, professional or otherwise.
Harassment can be visual, physical, or verbal. It also doesn’t have to be purely motivated by sexual desire.
Workplace sexual harassment, for example, could be motivated by an employee’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy.
Under California law, there are two main categories of workplace sexual harassment: harassment that creates a hostile work environment and “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment.
Hostile Work Environment Harassment
This type of workplace sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment for the victim and/or other employees.
Such conduct can make it extremely challenging for employees, including the victim, to perform their work well. This is especially the case if an authority figure, such as a manager or supervisor, is responsible for the conduct.
This type of harassment also does not have to be ongoing. One verbal slur, for example, can be severe enough to constitute workplace harassment.
Hostile work environment harassment can take any form, as long as it is “severe” or “pervasive.” You may experience verbal harassment in the workplace, such as sexual slurs, ridiculing statements, and pointed propositions.
Or it may be explicitly physical. Your manager, for example, may grope, grab, or touch you without your consent.
Lastly, you could experience visual harassment. This can take the form of lewd gestures or unsolicited sexual images.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” Quid pro quo harassment often takes the form of a proposition, such as a boss asking you to trade sexual favors for a promotion.
So, if your boss says, “Sleep with me and I’ll give you a raise,” you can file a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace.
Quid pro quo harassment doesn’t have to be as explicit as this, however. It refers to any situation where an employee must put up with harassment or advances as a condition of employment or employee benefits.
This is the most severe form of workplace sexual harassment. Legally, supervisors or employers face strict repercussions for quid pro quo harassment.
California Sexual Harassment Laws
Workplace sexual harassment is prohibited in all U.S. states.
In California, sexual harassment in the workplace violates two main laws. One of these is a federal law and the other is a state law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal U.S. labor law. Title VII of this act prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, sex, race, color, or national origin.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission enforces this law.
In the context of sexual harassment, Title VII protects employees from being treated differently for sexual reasons. These don’t have to be related to sexual desire, as we already mentioned.
Sexual discrimination can be linked to an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Harassment related to pregnancy and childbirth also qualifies.
You are protected under this law if you work for a company or labor union with fifteen or more employees. The same goes for employment agencies, apprenticeship programs, and state and local governments.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act
This is the basic California law that prohibits workplace sexual harassment in general terms.
Over time, California courts have made the legal definition of sexual harassment in the workplace much more precise.
Now, workplace harassment can be classified as quid pro quo harassment (EHA/California Government Code 12940 GC) or hostile work environment harassment.
What to Do If You’re a Victim
So what happens if you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in California? Here are some tips.
The first thing you should do if you experience harassment as a California employee is to document the incident(s). Write down the date, location, and time of the harassment, as well as the perpetrator(s).
If you have any text messages, emails, or letters to support this conduct, gather these. You may also want to make several copies of these documents.
Most companies will have a sexual harassment policy in place already. If your company has one, read it thoroughly. Take whatever steps the policy suggests (if it suggests any).
All of this is important as time is always of the essence with sexual harassment claims. Unfortunately, employees have a limited time window for reporting such incidents, especially under federal law.
2. Report the Incident
This can be a tricky step, as sometimes employers and supervisors are the perpetrators. A lot of employees also fear retaliation.
If you can, report the incident to your supervisor or employer. Next, file a harassment claim.
You can do this through either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
How do you know which one to choose?
In general, we recommend filing through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This is because you have longer to file with CDFEH than with EEOC: one year as opposed to 180 days after the incident(s) occurred.
3. Seek Support
There are plenty of resources at your disposal if you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in CA.
One of these is Calfornia Employee Help, which enables employees to assess the validity of their cases before hiring an attorney.
Other resources include trauma counseling, health care providers, and friends and family.
Now you know all about California’s policies for sexual harassment in the workplace. What comes next?
As a California employee, you have more rights than you may realize. Check out this helpful infographic to learn more!