We Protect Workers

Employee sexual harassment can occur anywhere

People often wrongly believe that employee sexual harassment, by definition, must occur in the workplace. Unfortunately, those who believe that may behave inappropriately towards a colleague, subordinate or even their boss in a social setting, like a Happy Hour or a wedding.

Further, the victim of this harassment may believe that while the behavior is boorish and offensive, there’s nothing they can do about it. They may suffer in silence.

What is a hostile work environment?

Employee sexual harassment is prohibited regardless of where it happens – even online. That’s largely because even if it occurs at a non-work location and outside of work hours, it can create a hostile work environment for the victim.

This can manifest in any number of ways. The victim may try to avoid the harasser, which could affect their work and potentially opportunities to advance – especially if the harasser is in a position of authority. The harasser could be upset with the victim rejecting their “advances” and punish them in one way or another. At a minimum, the harassment – even if it occurred only once – can cause the victim discomfort, anxiety and even fear when they encounter their harasser.

What does California law say on the topic?

California law is fairly broad when it comes to defining sexual harassment. The law allows people to hold someone civilly liable for sexual harassment if there’s a “business, service, or professional relationship between the plaintiff and defendant or the defendant holds himself or herself out as being able to help the plaintiff establish a business, service, or professional relationship.” Of course, there are cases where the harassment may be a criminal offense as well.

If someone reports being the victim of sexual harassment to their manager or a human resources professional in the company or of witnessing someone being harassed, the employer has a responsibility to investigate the reported behavior. If they find that it did occur, they have a responsibility to hold the harasser accountable. Further, they cannot retaliate or allow anyone else to retaliate against the victim or witnesses for reporting the harassment.

Those who have suffered sexual harassment need to know and be able to assert their rights. Depending on the employer, that can be much easier said than done. It may be necessary for employees to seek legal guidance to protect their rights and their job.