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Steps for Responding to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment at work, back view

No one should be forced to endure sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s despicable, immoral, and illegal. Many employees who experience sexual harassment in the workplace, however, do not know how best to respond. It can be difficult to balance the interpersonal and professional relationships affected while reeling from the psychological trauma such harassment can inflict. Below, our experienced harassment attorneys offer guidance on how best to respond should you experience sexual harassment in the course of your employment. If you’ve faced sexual harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful treatment at your job, call a passionate Riverside workplace harassment lawyer for help.

Identifying Sexual Harassment

Not all unpleasant workplace interactions constitute sexual harassment. Under California and federal law, there are two general categories of workplace sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment, also called sexual coercion, refers to comments or behavior suggesting an exchange of sexual favors for employment benefits. If a supervisor demands a date on threat of termination or offers a promotion for sleeping with them, that’s certainly sexual harassment.

A hostile work environment occurs when unwanted sexual comments, pictures, or behaviors cause an employee’s work environment to be hostile, intimidating, or offensive. To give rise to a legal claim for harassment, the conduct must be either so “severe” or so “pervasive” as to create a hostile work environment. Examples of sexual harassment include unwanted sexual advances, requests for a date, dirty pictures, sexual comments, displaying sexually-oriented materials, or making sexual jokes. An employee can certainly take steps to respond to a single offensive comment, but they may not have a legal claim unless the conduct was especially egregious.

Dealing With Sexual Harassment

If you are facing sexual harassment in the workplace, there are many steps to take to protect yourself, your work environment, your career, and potential future legal claims. These steps include:

  1. Talk to the perpetrator. If you feel comfortable doing so, let the person know that their conduct is unwelcome and/or offensive. Some people may actually be oblivious to the offensive nature of their conduct. If they persist, you can tell them you will report them to HR if they do not cease. If you are not comfortable speaking to the person directly, you can ask a coworker, a supervisor, or HR to talk to the employee for you.
  2. Tell your supervisor. If the harassing conduct continues, alert your manager or supervisor. It’s always best to put these statements in writing, to start a paper trail. If you are concerned that you could be fired for speaking up, you can skip these steps and go straight to HR.
  3. Talk to HR and Go Through the Company Grievance Process. Follow your company’s procedure for filing an official complaint. Typically, this involves speaking to HR or a similar department and lodging your official complaint. Your employee handbook or internal company website should detail the procedure for reporting instances of harassment, or you can ask a supervisor or HR how to lodge your complaint. Even if you speak with HR in person, send a follow-up email to ensure that there’s a paper trail for your complaints. The company should investigate your allegations and take appropriate action.
  4. Keep Copies of Everything. If you file a complaint or communicate with supervisors or HR, keep copies of all relevant communications and documents. Your complaint should detail everything you’ve experienced including the time and place, the perpetrator(s), witnesses, the comments or other offensive conduct, steps you have taken to mitigate the conduct, whether the behavior has continued, and other concerns you may have (such as if you are worried about getting fired for speaking up).
  5. Talk to a Workplace Harassment Lawyer. If you haven’t spoken with a lawyer yet, it’s time to do so. A California sexual harassment lawyer will help you through the next steps in the process, including working through your company’s complaint resolution process, filing a claim with the EEOC, and filing a lawsuit.
  6. File an EEOC or DFEH Complaint. If your company does not respond appropriately to your complaints, you may need to go outside the company. Talk to your attorney about the appropriate next steps. You may wish to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
  7. File a Lawsuit. Ultimately, you may need to proceed to court to see proper justice done for the harm you have suffered. Talk it over with your lawyer and, if a lawsuit is appropriate in your case, they’ll work with you to build your case, gather evidence, and take your claims to court.

Call a Compassionate Labor Law Attorney for Help Dealing With Workplace Harassment

For help protecting yourself and recovering compensation after experiencing sexual harassment or a hostile work environment in Southern California, call Ochoa & Calderón to discuss your case with a seasoned, dedicated California labor and employment attorney. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California.

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