Written by: John Dalton
| Read Time: 4 minutes

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem both throughout the United States and in California. To help combat sexual harassment, California law imposes strict liability on employers when their agents or supervisors commit acts of sexual harassment against employees. This means your employer can be liable even if they did not know about the harassment. Your employer can also be liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by your co-worker, subordinate, or other parties. 

Both federal and California workplace sexual harassment laws allow you to receive compensation for acts of sexual harassment. Consequently, if you are a victim of sexual harassment, don’t stay silent. Call us or contact us online today to recover compensation for your losses.

Understanding Sexual Harassment in California

Before we explore an employer’s liability for sexual harassment, it’s essential to define sexual harassment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment includes things like “unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” According to federal law, sexual harassment can also include offensive remarks and conduct relating to a person’s gender. It can take the form of someone asking for dates, making comments about your body, or comments about other people, asking questions about your personal relationships, comments about what you are wearing, calling you “pet names,” for example, “honey,” “sweetie,” or referring to you as “sexy” or “hot,” or putting you down because of your gender.

Under California law, the definition of “sexual harassment” includes a wider variety of behaviors. Specifically, it involves any kind of negative, inappropriate or unwanted behavior against an employee based on a constellation of unlawful gender-related reasons. Those reasons include:

  • Sex,
  • Marital status,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Pregnancy,
  • Childbirth,
  • Pregnancy-related or sex-related medical conditions,
  • Gender identity, and
  • Gender expression.

Notwithstanding these small nuances in definition, the federal and California conceptions of sexual harassment are very similar. In both jurisdictions, it does not matter if the victim is the same gender as the harasser and sexual desire does not have to be the motivating factor for the harassing conduct.. 

So Is an Employer Liable for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in California? 

An employer can be liable. California law imposes an affirmative duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment. Therefore, your employer’s obligation to prevent workplace sexual harassment is a legal one which must be taken seriously. 

But when is your employer liable for workplace sexual harassment? California law imposes two levels of liability on employers. If your sexual harasser is a supervisor or agent of the employer, then your employer is strictly liable for the harassment. That means your employer is liable even if they were not aware of the harassment.  This is based on the fact your employer has given authority to a person that abuses that authority via sexual harassment and/or discrimination.  Your employer can also be liable even if they have taken general actions to prevent sexual harassment, such as posting sexual harassment legal notices throughout the workplace.

But what if your harasser is a co-worker or a non-supervisory employee? Your employer can still be held liable. When the harasser is a co-worker or non-supervisory employee, you’ll need to show two things to hold your employer liable:

  • Your employer knew or should have known about the sexual harassment; and
  • Your employer failed to take immediate corrective action. 

Some situations of sexual harassment are fairly straightforward. Other times, understanding who is liable for workplace sexual harassment can be a little confusing. For instance, who is liable if the sexual harasser is a third party who visits your workplace but is not an employee? Who is responsible if the harasser is a client or member of the public? These are also not unusual situations that we deal with commonly.  If this is happening to you, please contact us immediately. 

Taking Control: The Most Important Thing to Do If You Are Experiencing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

If you’re experiencing sexual harassment right now, the first and most critical thing you can do is to contact us right away. By contacting us first, you can plan your actions from square one, instead of acting first and hoping that you made the right choice. We can help you in several ways. Most importantly, we protect your rights, help you with the legal process and negotiate on your behalf with your employer and third parties. 

Here are three more specific steps you can take after you contact a lawyer:

Document, Document, Document

Keep a record of all sexual harassment incidents. Be sure to record the date, time, location, and what was said or done. This documentation can be used as evidence to support your claim when you decide to pursue legal action. It can also prove vital if your employer attempts to retaliate against you for speaking up.  But keep in mind, the most important thing to do is to contact us as soon as you believe you have experienced sexual harassment.

Report the Harassment to Your Employer

Sometimes, you might feel that it makes no difference to report the harassment to your employer. However, it’s vital you notify your employer or a human resources representative about the harassment as soon as possible. Your employer has a legal responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action to stop the harassment. And by reporting the harassment, you can help put your employer on notice. Even if they take no corrective action, documenting your report can help you hold them accountable during a lawsuit. Again, contact us even if you think you have suffered sexual harassment.

File a Complaint with the California Civil RIghts Department (CRD)

The CRD is a California state agency (analogous to the EEOC) that investigates claims of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It is very important you contact us before you file a complaint with the CRD.  The complaint process often requires guidance and it is important not to make a mistake.  So let us help you with this process and contact us before taking any action on your own. 

Let the Law Office of John Dalton Represent You in Your Journey Toward Justice

Here at the Law Office of John Dalton, we know how debilitating and difficult it can be to overcome sexual harassment. But don’t stand alone. Let us listen to your story and give you a voice. We pride ourselves on developing a meaningful relationship with all our clients and we will fight for you. In addition, our firm concentrates solely on employment law cases. That means we are thoroughly experienced with all facets of sexual harassment claims. Don’t wait. Call us today or reach out to us online

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