Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Employees in San Francisco and elsewhere in California have a right to work in an environment that is not abusive or hostile to employees because of their sex or gender or sexual characteristics. Employees also have a right to be free from unwelcome sexual advances.
In addition to sex-based harassment, California law prohibits harassment in the workplace that is motivated by an employee’s sexual identity. California law specifically prohibits workplace harassment of employees because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, or because the employee does not conform to gender stereotypes.
How is sexual harassment defined? Sexual harassment can occur in many ways, but employment discrimination laws divide prohibited sexual harassment into two categories:
A hostile work environment exists when a reasonable employee would feel intimidated or abused by severe or pervasive conduct that is based on the employee’s gender, sexual characteristics, or gender identity. Examples of sexual harassment that might create a hostile work environment include repeated insults or vulgar language, lewd jokes, pornographic images in work areas, intimidating statements or threats, and interference with work. As a general rule, the more severe the harassment, the less often it needs to occur to create a hostile work environment. In some cases, a single incident of severe conduct, such as inappropriate touching, will suffice to create a hostile work environment for the employee. Harassment that is severe or pervasive creates a hostile work environment if a reasonable employee would consider it intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Harassment by a supervisor, by other employees, or even by people who do not work for the employer, can create a hostile work environment if it is severe or pervasive.
In most cases, employers are automatically responsible for sexual harassment committed by a CEO, officer, or any other supervisory employee of the company who has the ability to hire, fire, promote, discipline, or direct other employees or effectively recommend such action.
Employers are responsible for a hostile work environment even if a supervisor did not participate in the harassment, if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to make serious efforts to protect the employee from it.
Employers are more likely to be held responsible for a hostile work environment if they fail to adopt a harassment policy that includes a complaint procedure, fail to communicate the policy to employees, fail to investigate sexual harassment complaints, or fail to take prompt and effective action to protect employees.
The first thing a person who is being sexually harassed should do is seek legal advice. Depending on the nature and frequency of the harassment, a sexual harassment lawyer in San Francisco may advise the employee to notify the employer and to follow the employer’s sexual harassment complaint procedure. If the complaint does not resolve the problem, the employee may be entitled to seek a legal remedy.
In some cases, however, particularly when there is no harassment reporting policy or when the harasser is the CEO or some other highly placed executive, the employee may not need to report the problem to the human resources department, although it is often still advisable to do so. The San Francisco sexual harassment lawyers at Minnis & Smallets can help you identify your options in this situation and guide your response.
The lawyers at Minnis & Smallets have represented many employees who have been sexually harassed at work. We can advise you of your rights and options. We can work to negotiate a resolution of the situation if you are still employed. If your employer fired you because you resisted or complained about harassment, or if you were forced to quit because you could no longer tolerate a hostile work environment, we may be able to help you obtain compensation. To tell us about your experience with sexual harassment in San Francisco or elsewhere in Northern California, call us at 1-415-551-0885 or submit our online contact form.