According to the Office of the Attorney General in California, sexual harassment “refers to both unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.” This definition of sexual harassment includes a wide array of behaviors, including but not limited to leering, making derogatory comments, touching, offering a “quid pro quo” for sexual favors, and much more.
Notably, sexual harassment is not limited to conduct related to sexual desire. Sexual harassment can be based on sex or gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors, real or perceived. This generalized application is often critical to protecting members of the LGBT community from sexual harassment so that our understanding of the rules isn’t limited to the sexual harassment of women alone. Therefore, referring to someone by using a homophobic slur may constitute sexual harassment.
How Can I Prevent Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?
There is a basic concept underlying the approach to sexual harassment in the workplace: be a decent person and treat other people with respect. However, the unfortunate reality is that some people will not see it as that straightforward. Therefore, Sexual harassment prevention training is critical to reducing incidents in the workplace and dealing with them when they happen.
Who has to provide sexual harassment training?
As of 2021, any employer with five or more employees needs to provide mandatory sexual harassment training within six months of hiring and every two years thereafter. Supervisory employees must complete 2 hours of training for each of these terms, and nonsupervisory employees must complete one.
What does the mandatory harassment training need to address?
Employers must provide effective, interactive training designed to educate their employees about sexual harassment and reduce workplace incidents. Adequate sexual harassment training will explain and test on a wide variety of required material including, but not limited to:
- Practical examples of sexual harassment;
- The obligation to report sexual harassment in the workplace;
- The limited confidentiality of the reporting process;
- The resources available to victims of sexual harassment;
- What to do if a supervisor is accused of sexual harassment;
- How employers must address any incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace; and
- The remedies were available for victims.
California provides free, online sexual harassment prevention training that satisfies current legal requirements. Employers may also choose to develop their own programs or seek third-party solutions, but in all cases, the sexual harassment prevention training must be provided by a “qualified trainer,” such as an attorney or human resources professional with appropriate experience. This can be in person, but there is a growing trend among employers choosing to supply sexual harassment training electronically.
What Should I Do if I Am a Victim of Sexual Harassment?
If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, coming forward about your experience can be both intimidating and draining, but there are plenty of resources that California either provides or mandates to help you.
First, you should review your employer’s sexual harassment policy and make efforts to comply with the stated policy in writing. Keep records of any incidents and communication about any incidents. This stage is critical not just so that your employer has the opportunity to take swift action, but also because your failure to report an incident may preclude any additional remedies linked to that incident.
Next, you should report the incident(s) to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Just like in cases of employment discrimination, you only need to report to one of these agencies, and they will determine the next steps, such as whether to conduct a full investigation.
You do not need a lawyer for you to file a complaint of sexual harassment with the DFEH or the EEOC, but you may find it helpful to speak with someone well-versed in employment law, navigating this process, and your rights as an individual and an employee.
Contact Pride Legal
If you or a loved one believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.
Q: What body of law prohibits sexual harassment?
A: Sexual harassment is prohibited under federal law via Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Q: Is sexual harassment the same as sexual assault?
A: Sexual assault is an extreme form of sexual harassment. If you are a victim of sexual assault, you have many additional resources available to you, and the path forward may look very different than it does for other forms of sexual harassment. You may wish to report the incident to the police, seek immediate healthcare, reach out to friends and family, or seek out other crisis resources.