Fred Geonetta
By: Fred Geonetta

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 25 percent of working women and 20 percent of working men have experienced sexual harassment at work. If you are a sexual harassment victim, contact a San Francisco employment rights attorney at once.

Under California law, what constitutes sexual harassment? How much time do you have to bring a sexual harassment claim against a co-worker in this state? What are your legal rights when it comes to sexual harassment, and what steps will you need to take to stop the sexual harassment?

If you will keep reading this brief discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace and your rights, you’ll find some answers, but if you’ve been sexually harassed at your own workplace, you will also need personalized legal advice from a San Francisco employment rights lawyer.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment Under California Law?

Sexual harassment is behavior that intimidates, offends, or humiliates someone because of his or her gender. It may include anything from an offensive calendar or cartoon on a co-worker’s desk to sexual groping or assault.

Under the laws of this state, sexual harassment on the job may consist of, but is not necessarily limited to, these behaviors:

  1.  leering, derogatory slurs, comments, jokes, epithets, or rude gestures
  2.  unwanted touching of any kind on any part of the body
  3.  unwanted sexual propositions and the discussion of sexual acts
  4.  positions or benefits offered in exchange for sexual favors
  5.  job-related threats for not complying with a sexual request
  6.  loss of employment or benefits after complaining about harassment

“Jokes” include lewd or derogatory cartoons, calendars, or other offensive material, either printed and distributed, emailed or posted online, or displayed in the workplace.

How Are California Workers Protected From Sexual Harassment?

State and federal laws absolutely prohibit sexual harassment at the workplace in all circumstances. Under federal law, sexual harassment at work is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under state law, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959 (FEHA) offers protection against sexual harassment to workers employed by companies with five or more employees in California.

Employers in this state are legally obligated to eliminate workplace sexual harassment by establishing appropriate policies and ensuring proper supervision and training. Most employers know that sexual harassment at work is both unlawful and bad for business.

What Are an Employer’s Other Responsibilities Under FEHA?

Employers are also obligated by FEHA to provide workers with legal information regarding sexual harassment, and an employer must establish a policy that addresses sexual harassment and the prevention of employer retaliation against those who report it.

Employers must ensure workers receive and understand the policy. Employers with fifty or more employees are required to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees within six months after a person takes on supervisory duties and to repeat that training every two years.

Who May Have Liability for a Workplace Sexual Harassment Claim?

Employees who perpetrate sexual harassment are personally liable and may be named as defendants in sexual harassment lawsuits. However, employers have “strict liability” if sexual harassment is perpetrated by someone in a supervisory position.

Strict liability means that an employer is liable for a victim’s damages whether or not the employer knew (or should have known) about the harassment and whether or not the employer acted to stop the harassment.

An employer is liable whenever that employer knew or should have known about harassment and took no immediate steps to stop it. But if the perpetrator isn’t a supervisor, and if the employer did not and could not know of the harassment, the employer in such a case may not be liable.

What Steps Can Sexual Harassment Victims Take?

The first step in stopping sexual harassment is to follow your employer’s internal procedures and report sexual harassment to a supervisor or HR department. Responsible employers who find out about sexual harassment will almost always take immediate action to eliminate it.

If your employer takes no action, the next step that a sexual harassment victim should take is to schedule a meeting with a San Francisco employment rights attorney. However, you should understand that under state law, you can’t go directly to court with a sexual harassment lawsuit.

You and your attorney first must submit an administrative complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If the DFEH does not take its own legal action against the employer in 150 days after receiving your complaint, it must notify you.

Upon receiving that notification, you must then request a “right to sue notice” from the DFEH. When you receive the right-to-sue notice, you and your attorney may then proceed with a lawsuit in a California civil court.

How Can You Help Your Own Case?

If you’re victimized by workplace sexual harassment, you can help your case by gathering and compiling evidence now. Record the location, time, and date of each sexual harassment incident. Print hard copies of emails and any other documents that support your claim.

After examining the details of your claim, if your San Francisco employment rights lawyer recommends moving forward with legal action, your lawyer will need those documents as evidence. Here are some additional suggestions for dealing with sexual harassment:

  1.  Have witnesses. If you are sexually harassed at work, identify and speak with anyone who saw or overheard the incident. If your sexual harassment claim goes to trial, witnesses might make the difference.
  2.  Do not try to act as your own attorney: Don’t argue with your employer about the law. Instead, speak to your own lawyer, and then let that lawyer do the talking on your behalf.

What Else Should You Know About Workplace Sexual Harassment?

In California, you have three years from the date of a sexual harassment incident to file a sexual harassment lawsuit. Don’t wait three years. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to prove your claim. If you are a sexual harassment victim, speak to a lawyer at once.

No one should have to fight for his or her basic employment rights. California employers should let their employees know that sexual harassment complaints will be clearly heard, seriously considered, and immediately remedied.

If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment, have a California employment rights lawyer advise and represent you. Your lawyer will explain how the law applies to your own case, protect your rights, and fight aggressively for the justice you need and deserve.

Fred Geonetta
By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.