With many high-profile cases in the news, sexual harassment is one of the most discussed areas of the law. You may have wondered what sexual harassment means, especially if you think you may have experienced wrongful behavior in your own workplace. News do not always give the full picture of sexual harassment law in California. Here are four facts you might not know about sexual harassment law in California:
1. Consent to a Sexual Relationship Does Not Prevent a Claim
You might think that agreeing to a sexual relationship with a coworker or supervisor would mean you can’t sue. Not true! Your consent to a relationship may not have been truly voluntary. For example, you may have agreed to a relationship with a supervisor because of job pressure. You may have worried that you would get fired or otherwise punished if you did not agree to the relationship. If the sexual advances by your supervisor or coworker were “unwelcome,” you may still have a claim for sexual harassment, even if you went along with it because you were afraid.
2. A Sexual Harassment Claim Does Not Need to Be Based on Sexual Desire
This may not make much sense at first glance. How can you have a valid sexual harassment claim without acts based on sexual desire? The reality is that many sexual harassment claims are not based on sexual desire. There may be other reasons for the harassment, such as misogyny, misguided humor, boredom, or a personal vendetta. For example, mocking a man for his feminine mannerisms, calling him “she” or “her” or saying that he acts “like a woman” can be hostile work environment sexual harassment. These comments are still “based on sex” and are illegal. Even if a claim is not based on sexual desire, it still may be wrongful conduct under the law.
3. A Single Incident Can Be Enough for A Claim
With terms such as “hostile work environment” and “severe and pervasive” used in sexual harassment cases, you might assume that you only have a strong case if the harassment is constant or frequent. Even a single instance of harassment can support a lawsuit. If the incident involved a physical touching or threat of physical touching, courts have held that even a single incident is “severe” enough to support a lawsuit.
4. You Might Be Able to Bring A Claim Based on Sexual Harassment of Others
Even if you were not the direct target of sexual harassment, you may still have a claim. Conduct directed at others may still impact your work environment and lead to a hostile work environment if it “permeated” your direct work environment. In other words, the harassment of others must have happened in your immediate work environment, you personally witnessed it, and it negatively impacted your job. If you stood up for your harassed coworker and complained about the harassment to your employer, it may also result in a retaliation claim. If you are fired, disciplined, or otherwise retaliated against for complained about harassment in the workplace, California law may protect you.