Sexual harassment at work is prohibited by state and federal law. While the law does not hold employers accountable for every objectionable act that might occur in the workplace, a San Francisco sexual harassment lawyer may be able to help employees obtain a remedy if they are subjected to the kind of work environment that the law regards as intolerable.
The law recognizes two kinds of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment.
“Quid pro quo” is a Latin expression that is usually translated as “this for that” or “something for something else.” The expression signifies that one thing is given or offered in exchange for another.
Sexual harassment law has adopted the phrase “quid pro quo” to refer to a situation in which future employment, a raise, a promotion, or other benefits of employment are conditioned upon the employee’s willingness to submit to sexual encounters, either explicitly or implicitly.
By definition, quid pro quo harassment is committed by someone who has the power to affect the employee’s terms and conditions of employment. Owners and managers with authority to terminate employment or to change the terms of employment are in a position to commit quid pro quo harassment. A supervisor whose recommendations about employment decisions are influential (including preparing a performance review that will likely affect decisions about salary increases or job retention) may also be in a position to engage in quid pro quo harassment.
A single instance of quid pro quo sexual harassment may entitle an employee to a legal remedy. An employee who is terminated, denied a raise, or treated unfavorably because the employee refused a sexual advance or who has been pressured into accepting a sexual advance should seek immediate advice from a sexual harassment lawyer in San Francisco.
Sexual harassment can also consist of creating a hostile work environment. A company is generally responsible for a hostile work environment when the company’s decision-makers (including owners, managers, and supervisors) either create the hostile work environment or tolerate it after learning of its existence.
A hostile work environment constitutes sexual harassment when an employee is subjected to unwanted harassing conduct because of their sex or gender. A work environment is regarded as hostile when the harassment is either severe or pervasive. As a general rule, the more severe the harassment is, the less pervasive it needs to be in order to be legally actionable. The existence of a hostile work environment is usually measured by whether a reasonable employee of the same sex or gender would find the environment so hostile or oppressive that it substantially interferes with the ability to work.
Here are some examples of sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment:
Unwelcome propositions to engage in sexual behavior may constitute sexual harassment, particularly when the propositions continue after they have been refused. An employee who tells a coworker to stop making sexual propositions, and who complains to management when the propositions continue, might be entitled to a legal remedy if the employer fails to protect the employee from further harassment after those complaints are lodged. A San Francisco sexual harassment attorney can advise employees about the response they should make to unwanted pressure to engage in sexual encounters.
Unwanted physical contact may create a hostile work environment if it is severe or pervasive. For example, a single instance of unwanted touching of the employee’s back or shoulder would rarely create a hostile work environment, while a single instance of unwanted touching that would constitute a sexual assault might create a hostile work environment. A San Francisco employment lawyer who handles sexual harassment cases can advise employees about the steps they can take if they are subjected to unwanted touching in the workplace.
Dirty jokes, lurid references to an employee’s private parts, and discussions of sexual activity are generally inappropriate in the workplace. Offensive jokes with a sexual theme, offensive statements based on gender-based characteristics, and offensive stories about sexual conquests are examples of sexual harassment.
Sexual jokes and remarks may create a hostile work environment if they are a frequent occurrence, particularly when management is aware of the problem and does nothing to resolve it. Employees who cannot resolve the problem by working with management might benefit from a consultation with a sexual harassment attorney in San Francisco.
Making derogatory remarks about an employee’s sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation might create a hostile work environment. A barrage of gender-based insults such as “women don’t know how to fix machines” or daily speculation about an employee’s sexual orientation could become sufficiently abusive to create a hostile work environment.
Employees can also create a hostile work environment by targeting other employees for intimidation because of their gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Threats of physical harm are an example of intimidation, whether or not the threats are verbalized.
Drawing the line between rude behavior that the law tolerates and sexually harassing behavior that the law forbids is not always easy. A sexual harassment attorney at San Francisco’s Minnis & Smallets can provide advice about an appropriate course of action when an employee feels that sexual harassment has occurred. To learn more about your right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace, call 1-415-551-0885 or submit our online contact form.
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