Sexual harassment occurs when an individual is subjected to unwanted sexual advances or physical contact, verbal conduct of a sexual nature or requests for sexual favors, or an environment of sexual hostility or sexually offensive behavior. It is a form of discrimination covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual discriminationin the workplace.
Offensive remarks about one’s sex or gender are equally considered to be harassment. Sexual harassment also does not have to occur between the sexes; same-sex harassment is equally a violation of Title VII. The harasser can be a coworker or colleague, a manger or supervisor, or even a nonemployee. Simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated minor instances of offensive behavior do not constitute harassment under the law.
Repeated and severe occurrences can result in a hostile workplace and are considered illegal discrimination. In California, sexual harassment is prohibited under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). It protects all California workers and applicants for employment, and applies to all businesses, state government agencies and governing boards, and labor organizations with at least one employee.
Any business or organization with fifty or more workers—whether fulltime, part-time, or temporary—must provide harassment prevention training for all employees. Additionally compliance training is mandated under the FEHA for all supervisors with authority to hire, assign, transfer, reward, promote, discipline, suspend, lay off, handle grievances, or dismiss employees.
Victims of sexual harassment should directly inform the harasser that their actions are not welcome and must cease. Victims should seek remedy through their employer by speaking to a supervisor and/or filing a complaint through their company’s grievance system. The employer must taken reasonable actions to ensure all harassment is stopped and that appropriate sanctions are put in place against the harasser. Retaliation against the employee experiencing and reporting harassment is illegal.
A complaint must be filed with either the state DFEH or the federal EEOC. Employees filing such complaints may request that no investigation be made, but that they instead are issued an immediate letter providing the right to sue. Once all remedies have been exhausted or upon receipt of a right-to-sue letter, employees may file a civil suit. Before doing so, it is highly recommended they consult with and/or retain legal counsel.