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Defining sexual harassment in California

The Fair Housing and Employment Act defines sexual harassment as harassment based on a person's gender. Even if the harasser is the same gender as the person being harassed, it could still be considered sexual harassment if it meets the criteria to be considered as such. Actions that could be considered sexual harassment include making offensive gestures, staring, or using jokes or slurs of a sexual nature.

Harassment may also occur if an employee is offered preferential treatment at work in exchange for sexual favors or faces retaliation if he or she does not comply with the request. If an employee feels that he or she has been the victim of sexual harassment, that person may file a complaint with the Department of Fair and Equal Housing.

This complaint must be filed within one year of the alleged harassment. If attempts to settle the case fail, it may be possible for the DFEH to order reinstatement of the employee or order back wages to be paid. It may also be able to force changes to the company's policies regarding sexual harassment and how it treats workers. Those who do not want to work through the DFEH may be able to file a civil suit on their own.

Employees who have been the victim of sexual harassment at work may wish to hire an employment law attorney. An attorney may be able to establish that harassment occurred, which led to a hostile working environment for the employee. Employees may be able to win compensation in the form of punitive damages as well as back pay. Employers may be fined for their actions or lack of action to address allegations of harassment.

Source: Department of Fair Employment & Housing, "Sexual Harassment", December 01, 2014

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