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Steps to Combat Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

workplace sexual harassment.jpgWhen you are the victim of sexual harassment at the workplace, there is no harder or stressful decision to make other than deciding that you will no longer take the abuse. Employers have not only a responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free from sexual harassment, but a legal obligation to do so.

If your employer permits sexual harassment to flourish and poison the workplace, your employer may be liable for some hefty fines and jury verdicts. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, also referred to as "Title VII," is the primary federal law that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Many, if not all states, including California, have passed their own laws to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. Generally, sexual harassment is a broadly interpreted term and it includes any sexual conduct on the job that is: (1) unwelcomed; and (2) creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Categories of Sexual Harassment

In the eyes of the law, there are two categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo or hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when you submit to sexual demands as a condition of employment. The classic illustration of this case occurs when your supervisor makes unwanted sexual advances and threatens to fire you if you do not submit to your supervisor's demands.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment can arise when the employee is sexually harassed based on gender. Typical conduct that gives rise to hostile work environment claims include unwelcome and inappropriate contact or comments.

Protection from Sexual Harassment and Elements a Sexual Harassment Claim

As indicated above, state and federal laws provide protection from sexual harassment in the workplace. However, Title VII only applies to employers or companies with more than 15 employees. But, state law covers much smaller employers or companies. It is important to note that Title VII prohibits opposite and same-sex sexual harassment, while some states individually may not have laws that do so.

First, if you are subject to sexual harassment at the workplace, you should inform your supervisor or human resource department. However, if this attempt would be futile, filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment or the EEOC may be your only avenue for relief.

In order to establish a claim for sexual harassment under California state law, you must prove that: you were subject to unwelcome sexual advances, conduct or comments; the harassment was based on sex; and the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and created a hostile or abusive environment.

Likewise, under Title VII, you need to show similar elements to that of California state law. Under federal law, you need to prove that you: belong to a protected group (sex/gender); were subject to unwelcome harassment; that harassment was based on your sex/gender; the harassment was sufficiently pervasive to affect conditions of employment; and the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to correct it.

Contact an Attorney

If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, you should contact an experienced San Jose employment law attorney who will assist you in navigating the legal process, developing your EEOC complaint, prosecuting your claims and holding your employer accountable for the wrongful conduct you were subject to.

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