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What is considered sexual harassment?

In California, sexual harassment in the workplace may take many forms. For instance, it may be considered sexual harassment if an employer offers benefits in exchange for performing sexual favors. Conversely, it is also harassment if employees face reprisals for not performing sexual favors. Telling jokes, using slurs or posting sexually offensive material may also be considered a violation.

An employee may have a sexual harassment claim if abusive language was used specifically toward him or her. For instance, using obscene or degrading words to an employee or sending an employee sexually explicit notes or invitations is generally considered harassment. In addition, leering, staring at or groping an employee is prohibited sexual harassment at work. Even if physical contact is not made, preventing an employee from moving freely could meet the legal criteria of sexual harassment.

Employers may be held liable for sexual harassment whether they are aware of the activity or not. An exception to that rule is if the harassment is done by an employee who is not at the management level, but only if steps were taken to stop the behavior as soon as it was discovered. If a plan to prevent sexual harassment is already in place, that may also help the employer should an employee claim that he or she was sexually harassed.

There are many actions in the workplace that could be construed as sexual harassment. Employees who feel that they have been harassed may wish to talk to an employment law attorney. Doing so may help an affected worker receive damages and, if applicable, the recovery of lost wages and reinstatement to his or her position.

Source: California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, "Fair Employment and Housing - Sexual Harassment", October 17, 2014

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