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An overview of California sexual harassment law

Sexual harassment is a complicated problem to tackle. Sexual interactions and tension among people is hard to quantify and address. There are many fine lines that shift depending upon the people involved and the situation at hand. California has attempted to address this problem with the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The FEHA is enforced by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This article will explore how California defines sexual harassment and your employer's liability.

The FEHA generally defines sexual harassment as any unwanted advances or any verbal, visual or physical conduct that is sexual in nature. The act includes the following enumerated list as examples, however, this list is illustrative, it is not exhaustive:

  • Predicating employment or promotion in exchange for sexual favors.
  • Verbal conduct that is sexual such as: derogatory comments, slurs and inappropriate jokes.
  • Verbal abuse such as comments about a person's body, graphic description and other similar actions.
  • Overtly visual conduct such as: leering, displaying sexual gestures or displaying inappropriate cartoons.
  • Physical conduct that is either sexual or intimidating.

If your employer fails to take action to prevent this behavior then they could be subject to liability. Your employer must both attempt to minimize sexual harassment through proactive programs and respond to sexual harassment when it is reported. Basically, this means your boss must take reasonable steps to prevent harassment. Reasonable steps can be anything from once a month seminars, to employee information brochures to posters that discuss sexual harassment.

Additionally, it also requires that your boss have procedures for dealing with sexual harassment claims. There must be a mechanism for employees to report the conduct without fear of repercussion. This mechanism must also adequately investigate and act to redress the claim.

If you were the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, then you may want to consult with an employment attorney. You may have a claim against both your harasser and your boss. California and federal law both mandate that you are entitled to a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination.

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