Most Californians are aware of the recent scandal in San Diego in which eighteen women—and counting—have come forward to make allegations of sexual harassment against the Mayor of the city. Many of us assume that sexual harassment in the workplace is virtually extinct; unfortunately that is not the case. According to a leading sociologist at the University of Maine, nearly 70 percent of women and 45 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Working under such hostile working conditions can lead to a variety of physical and psychological health issues, some of which cause irreparable damage.
What Constitutes Harassment or Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is generally considered any type of sexual advance, innuendo, physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature or any demands for sexual favors which impede the victim’s work performance or creates a work environment which is unpleasant, intimidating or flat-out hostile. This same basic definition is applicable under California law as well. If the employee did not solicit the conduct, nor provoke it—whether sexual in nature or workplace harassment—or if the employee made it clear the conduct was unwelcome or offensive, then harassment has taken place.
Workplace harassment or sexual harassment may fall under quid pro quo harassment which occurs when employment decisions or treatment of an employee are based on submission to unwelcome conduct or when sexual favors are demanded by a supervisor as a condition of employment. Hostile work environment harassment is unwelcome conduct from supervisors, co-workers, customers or contractors which makes the workplace intimidating, hostile or offensive. Regarding sexual harassment, hostile work environment harassment occurs when an employer allows a sexually hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment to continue even though it adversely affects the victim’s ability to work. Any unwelcome or unwanted contact or conduct of a sexual nature qualifies as sexual harassment. Further, any type of harassment based on a pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions can be considered sexual harassment. Some specific types of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:
A boss or supervisor who has sexual conduct with an employee even if the sex was originally with the employee’s consent
A request by a boss or supervisor to engage in a sexual activity with an employee
When a supervisor, boss or other employee continually blocks or impedes the movements of another
Comments of a sexual nature including those which refer to another’s body
Suggestive or obscene notes, letters or invitations
The use of degrading words to describe another individual
Slurs, jokes or derogatory comments of a sexual nature
Making sexual gestures to another person
“Leering” at another person
Displaying cartoons, posters, photographs or objects which are sexually suggestive
Threatened retaliation for refusal to grant sexual favors
Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
Any unwanted sexual touch or advance
Are Employers Responsible for Harassment in the Workplace?
If an employer is aware of harassment in the workplace but turns a “blind eye,” victims of the harassment can suffer extreme agony each day they must go to work. In general, employers are liable for harassment from their supervisors or other agents, although the actual harasser may be held personally liable as well. If the employer knows or should have known that an employee or non-employee has engaged in sexual harassment toward another employee and fails to take immediate and appropriate action, then they can be held liable.
In other words, employers have an obligation to their employees to provide a safe workplace and to correct any instances of harassment or sexual harassment immediately after being made aware of such behaviors. Employers also have an obligation to provide and implement policies and procedures which inform employees of the necessary steps to correct sexual harassment and to communicate to the victim of sexual harassment that steps have been taken to halt the harassment.
What to Do When Sexual Harassment Occurs
While it can sometimes be somewhat subtle, therefore more difficult to put into words, most everyone knows when they are being harassed in the workplace. In order to ensure the harassment does not go unpunished, keeping meticulous records of every instance of harassment is crucial. Those who have suffered harassment in the workplace must document every comment, every leer or suggestive look, every off-color joke, including the circumstances under which the conduct occurred, the date and the time. If there are witnesses to the harassment, then obtain statements if at all possible. Sexual harassment should be reported through the proper channels, then should no corrective action be taken you may want to discuss your workplace harassment with a knowledgeable attorney from Pershing Square Law Firm who can clearly lay out your options.
The Long-Term Effects of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a humiliating and sometimes terrifying experience. Many times workers are hesitant to bring the harassment to light for fear of losing their job, or fear that others may not believe them. Victims of sexual harassment may experience long-term unhappiness and be subject to feelings of insecurity and self-loathing. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon among victims of sexual harassment which includes the victims re-living the trauma and staying away from people or places which remind them of the harassment. Sexual harassment can increase blood pressure, cause sleep disturbances, and lead a variety of aches and pains.
In fact, one Canadian study revealed that women who have suffered unwanted sexual attention or advances were 1.6 times more likely to experience serious levels of neck pain. Finally—and most seriously—sexual harassment can lead to suicidal behaviors. In another study approximately 15 percent of female students who had experienced some form of sexual harassment reported frequent suicide attempts as compared to only 2 percent among those who had not experienced sexual harassment.
The Financial Effects of Sexual Harassment
The financial effects of sexual harassment can also be quite severe, particularly when employers fail to implement adequate policies and procedures addressing sexual harassment. Loss of wages from taking sick leave as a result of sexual harassment or termination or transfer of employment due to sexual harassment is very common. Considering that women in the U.S. are nine times more likely than men to quit their jobs over instances of sexual harassment, you can see how a woman’s financial future in particular, could be impacted.
How Pershing Square Law Firm Can Help
We believe in promoting and preserving fairness and safety in your California workplace as well as helping those victims of discrimination or retaliation to fight such abusive employment practices. Many employees are hesitant to confront their employer regarding discrimination or retaliation; with Pershing Square Law Firm by your side from start to finish, you are empowered to fight for what is right. Our attorneys will thoroughly assess the individual circumstances surrounding your claims, then will clearly lay out your options and assist you in choosing the best one for your future. We will discuss both the strengths and the weaknesses of your case with you, always allowing you to play an important role in the decisions which are made.
Under both Federal law and Department of Labor policy, any type of harassment in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex—including pregnancy or gender identity—national origin, disability, age, parental status, sexual orientation or even genetic information is prohibited. When the workplace becomes uncomfortable or offensive to a worker, then workplace harassment could be present. Sexual harassment can be based on many of the same issues as workplace harassment, however contains sexual elements.