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When Is an Employer Liable for Sexual Harassment at Work?

Man provides the direct control for woman work

California lawmakers have enacted several laws and regulations aimed at stopping sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment, unfortunately, remains a major problem in the state and across the country. One of the major factors contributing to the continued prevalence of sexual harassment is a corporate culture that permits and even fosters such harassment. Employers, not just individual aggressors, must be held liable to curb such conduct. Continue reading to learn about when employers are liable for sexual harassment at work. Call a knowledgeable Riverside workplace harassment lawyer with additional questions or for help responding to harassment in your workplace.

Supervisor Harassment

Whether an employer is liable for sexual harassment turns, in part, on who committed the harassment. If an employee’s supervisor committed the harassment, the employer is almost certainly liable. If the employee’s co-worker committed the harassment, a more in-depth analysis is required. The nature of the harassment–quid pro quo vs. hostile work environment–is also of key relevance.

When an employee’s supervisor commits “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, and that conduct results in a negative employment action, the employer is “strictly liable” for harassment. Strict liability means the aggrieved employee does not need to prove negligence. The employer is liable regardless of whether they knew about the harassment, and whether they had reason to suspect harassment was occurring or the supervisor was unfit. They can be held liable even if they reacted appropriately to the incident after the fact, so long as the employee suffered an adverse employment consequence such as termination, denial of a promotion, rejection for a promotion, or loss of wages.

A “supervisor” is anyone with the authority to hire, fire, promote, or otherwise control the employee’s status or benefits of employment. It could be a direct supervisor or someone higher up the corporate chain.

If a supervisor commits “hostile work environment” harassment, the employer may be able to avoid liability. The employer must prove that it reasonably tried to prevent harassment (such as by way of sexual harassment policies and training), promptly corrected the harasser’s conduct (such as by moving or terminating the harasser), and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective options provided by the employer (such as failing to ever report the conduct to HR or another similar agent).

Co-Worker Harassment

If an employer’s co-worker commits sexual harassment, the employer is not automatically liable. The victim must demonstrate that the employer was negligent. In the case of workplace harassment, negligence means the employer knew or should have known the harassment was taking place and failed to take immediate corrective action to put a stop to the harassing conduct. If the employer failed to implement reasonable preventative measures to curb harassment, and/or failed to appropriately respond to employee complaints about sexual harassment, the employer may be held liable for the conduct of a non-supervisor.

Client, Customer, or Other Third-Party Harassment

Employers can be even held liable for the conduct of non-employees if the employer’s negligence contributed to the harassment. If the employer knew or should have known that a customer or client was sexually harassing an employee and the employer failed to take appropriate steps to protect their employee and remedy the situation, the employer may be held liable.

Call a Dedicated Sexual Harassment Attorney for Help With a California Labor Law Claim

For help protecting yourself and recovering compensation after experiencing sexual harassment in Southern California, call Ochoa & Calderón to discuss your case with a zealous and effective California sexual harassment lawyer. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California.

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