Sexual Harassment Laws

Sexual Harassment Laws

As more people return to in-person work environments, laws specifically pertaining to employees’ right to be safe and comfortable in the workplace are increasingly relevant. In the age of #MeToo, more people are aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and similarly inappropriate behavior, yet sexual harassment continues to be an issue in California workplaces.

One 2019 statewide study found that 86% of women and 53% of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime, and that Californians in the LGBTQ+ community are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault. Sexual harassment is illegal in any form, and it’s essential for employers and employees to understand their rights. Here is what you need to know about sexual harassment laws in California.

Work Harassment Laws in California

At the federal level, sexual harassment is against the law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Meanwhile, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act is the primary source of state-level sexual harassment law. Under both statutes, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination in employment.

One misconception about California workplace sexual harassment is that only people in a position of authority can be guilty of it. The truth is anyone in the workplace can stand accused of sexual harassment, including customers and third-party vendors.

Federal and state laws categorize two general types of sexual harassment.

  • Quid pro quo is a Latin term essentially translating to “tit for tat.” It centers on the idea of a tradeoff or exchange. One example of quid pro quo is a supervisor heavily implying or outright telling an employee that their continued employment or promotion hinges upon their willingness to perform sexual favors. Another instance could be a client offering to award a lucrative contract to someone who promises not to report their inappropriate conduct. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is serious enough that one incident can cause liability.
  • Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when someone’s actions are so offensive that they interfere with employees’ ability to get their work done or make the workplace an uncomfortable or inhospitable place to be. In some cases, a single act of harassment may be severe enough to create a hostile work environment; in others, the unwanted behavior is pervasive and ongoing.

Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment in California

The law obliges employers to provide a safe, harassment-free work environment. Failure to do so can result in extensive legal ramifications.

California employers are not only responsible for responding to sexual harassment reports; they must also work to actively prevent inappropriate workplace activity. Under California law, employees should feel safe about coming forward to report instances of sexual harassment without fear of retaliation or any other adverse job-related consequences.

Companies can use several strategies to keep their workplaces free of sexual harassment:

  • Providing mandatory sexual harassment training
  • Promptly and thoroughly investigating reports of sexual harassment
  • Reassigning or disciplining harassers, including firing them if necessary
  • Maintaining a work environment where victims are not afraid to speak up about their unwelcome experiences

Your Trustworthy Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Sexual harassment cases deserve legal representation from an attorney who understands the full extent of the law. Salvatore P. Ciulla is a knowledgeable Southern California defense attorney who is willing to take on even the most challenging cases. Learn more by reaching out to us today.


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