Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The recent downfall of the once-powerful Harvey Weinstein has brought about a national conversation about sexual harassment and a “Me Too” movement of awareness with many women acknowledging that they too have been harassed. As employees in California, it is now relevant and critical for you to understand how sexual harassment laws work to protect you in this state.

First, the law recognizes two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment and a hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo

“Quid pro quo” is Latin for “something for something” or “this for that”. In other words, it indicates an exchange. In the context of sexual harassment, quid pro quo harassment indicates the promise of a promotion, bonus, continued employment, or benefit in exchange for sexual conduct or advances. This type of harassment is unlawful under California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA). In fact, both the harasser and employers can be held liable for the misconduct.

In order to prove this harassment, a victim must demonstrate that:

  1. They were an employee, job applicant, or had a service contract with the harasser;
  2. That the harasser made “unwanted sexual advances” or engaged in “other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”;
  3. That the “terms of employment, job benefits, or favorable working conditions were made contingent, by words or conduct” on the victim’s acceptance of the sexual advances or conduct;
  4. That the harasser was the victim’s supervisor or agent at the time of the harassment;
  5. That the victim was “harmed”; and
  6. That the harasser’s conduct was a “substantial factor” in causing the victim’s harm.

Hostile Work Environment

The second type of sexual harassment is in the context of a hostile or abusive work environment. Since this involves an “environment”, the harasser(s) can be employers, supervisors, and other employees. The unwanted sexual behavior can include-but is not limited to-sexual advances, sexually derogatory jokes or comments, obscene messages, or physical contact like touching or groping. A supervisor and employee can be responsible for damages if they are proven to have engaged in sexual harassment, or the employer failed to act to stop the harassment.

To prove a hostile work environment, the victim must demonstrated that:

  1. The victim was an employee, intern, or volunteer;
  2. The victim was subjected to unwanted harassing conduct based on their protected status (like his or her gender);
  3. The harassing conduct was “severe or pervasive”;
  4. That a reasonable person in these circumstances would consider the workplace to be abusive or hostile;
  5. That the victim considered the work environment abusive or hostile;
  6. That the victim’s supervisor engaged in the conduct or that the employer “knew or should have known” of the conduct yet “failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action”;
  7. That the victim was harmed; and
  8. That the conduct was a “substantial factor” in causing the victim’s harm.

Woman Irritated With Man's Hand on Her Shoulder at Her Desk

Call Moss Bollinger

Sexual harassment is serious business and must be stopped. State and federal laws offer strong protection for employees who have suffered severe or pervasive sexual harassment, or who have been placed in a quid pro quo harassment situation. Contact Moss Bollinger today so that we can evaluate your claim. Our firm is dedicated to employees who want to enforce their legal rights against employer misconduct. We charge no fees up front and do not get paid unless you do. Call Moss Bollinger today at (866) 535-2994 for a free consultation or reach us online.