Although the standards for what is acceptable in the workplace with regards to sexual harassment has come a long way since the “Mad Men” days of the 1960s, sexual harassment remains a common problem for both women and men on the job. A recent survey found that 40% of women in the fast-food industry have been the victims of sexual harassment, and harassment is rampant in other industries as well. State and federal law prohibits sexual harassment on the job, but whether you can sue your employer for money damages over the harassment is another question.
Defining Sexual Harassment
Before reaching the question of your employer’s liability for sexual harassment, it is necessary to understand what types of actions constitute sexual harassment. As an employee in California, you are protected from harassment by both federal law and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Under those laws, sexual harassment on the job includes:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Offers of promotions or favors in exchange for sex
- Degrading comments about another’s appearance or features
- Other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature
- Creating a hostile work environment (e.g. sexually explicit art on the walls)
- Retaliation against employees who report sexual harassment
When a Supervisor Carries Out Sexual Harassment
If your immediate supervisor or a company manager or executive engages in an act of sexual harassment, then that person will be liable for sexual harassment and the employer is often also liable. This can be the case whether top management at the employer knew of the wrongdoer’s act or not, as the law considers the supervisor to be acting on behalf of the employer when managing employees. It is not generally necessary for the plaintiff to prove that the employer was negligent in hiring or overseeing the supervisor to successfully sue the employer.
When a Co-worker Commits Sexual Harassment
This leads us to the question of who is liable when it is not a supervisor but rather a co-worker who commits sexual harassment. An employer is not automatically liable for the actions of a co-worker against another worker, but there are a number of situations in which the employer will be liable.
First off, if the employer was made aware of the sexual harassment but failed to take action to remedy the situation (e.g. punishing the co-worker or preventing it from occurring again), the employer will be liable. If the employer did not know of the harassment but should have known, it will be liable as well. For example, if the employer did not take any steps to prevent sexual harassment on the job or provide channels of communication to report sexual harassment, this might make the employer liable.
Finally, a court may find that the employer played a part in creating a hostile work environment in which sexual harassment could proliferate. A hostile work environment could be found where the employer negligently hires employees who engage in sexual harassment, the creation of policies which encourage harassment, the failure to create policies or enforce policies to deter harassment, the failure to properly supervise workers to prevent harassment, and so on.
If you suspect you have been the victim of sexual harassment, speak with an experienced California employment law attorney.
Get Help From a Southern California Attorney In Your Sexual Harassment Matter
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment, contact an attorney as soon as possible to determine your rights and begin the process of obtaining your financial recovery. The attorneys at The Kaufman Law Firm has consistently won six- and seven-figure verdicts and settlements on behalf of plaintiffs across Southern California. They will work with you from the moment you call to investigate your matter and build your best possible case for recovery. Contact The Kaufman Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.