A few spoken words, a touch or a glance may seem good-natured to some, but can make others feel uncomfortable in the workplace. However, state and federal laws offer workers certain protections, including defense against sexually forward behavior. Under California state law, employers must take certain steps, at minimum, to provide workplaces that are free of sexual harassment. Despite laws and programs aimed at preventing this type of behavior, some people are still harassed in the workplace. Having an understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment may help workers to know if an uncomfortable situation is actually a violation of their rights.
When most people think of sexual harassment, derogatory or obscene name-calling, or the quid pro quo situations frequently portrayed in movies and television shows, are often what come to mind. There are numerous other situations, however, which may constitute this type of illegal behavior under the state’s employment law. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing points out that sexual harassment is defined as any verbal, visual or physical conduct that is sexual in nature, as well as unwanted sexual advances.
State law prohibits a range of behaviors, and other sexually related conduct, in the workplace. According to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, this includes the following:
- Making sexual gestures or leering
- Displaying suggestive cartoons, pictures, posters or objects
- Using or making derogatory slurs, jokes or comments
- Verbally abusing someone in a sexual nature
- Assaulting, blocking movements, impeding or touching a co-worker
Furthermore, it is illegal for people to threaten, or enact, any type of retaliation if a fellow employee, or subordinate, has a negative response to their sexual advances.
Workplace sexual harassment can turn what was once an enjoyable career into a dreaded daily activity. Employees do have rights and options, however. Depending on the circumstances, employers may be held responsible for such harassment. As such, those who have experienced sexual harassment on the job may benefit from consulting with a legal representative. An attorney may help them understand their rights, as well as their options.