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Sexual harassment is not always “sexual” in nature

Unwelcome advances, behaviors or requests that are sexual in nature, these are perhaps the most obvious forms of sexual harassment which can occur in the workplace. However, did you know someone can experience sexual harassment even when sex is not the focus?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment also refers to offensive conduct or words made based on a person’s gender.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment occurs when comments or behaviors toward a person regarding their gender result in a hostile work environment. The target of the harassment can be an employee of any gender, and so can the harasser. Victims of sexual harassment are also not limited to the person the targeted by the harasser. Anyone who witnesses and is offended by the conduct can be a victim.

To prove sexual harassment, there does not need to be an economic impact or firing of the victim. A sexual harasser can be a supervisor, a colleague, an agent of the employer or a non-employee.

What does not constitute sexual harassment?

A one-time joke, offhand comment or simple teasing is not considered sexual harassment. In order to be legally considered sexual harassment, the act or words must result in a work environment that is offensive or hostile.

Employers can combat sexual harassment

Providing a work environment free from sexual harassment should be a priority for every employer, for the sake of their employees, and to protect themselves from lawsuits.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the State of California requires employers to provide workers with sexual harassment training. All employees must obtain this training within six months of their hiring and every two years thereafter. Supervisory employees need a minimum of two hours of interactive or classroom education, while nonsupervisory employees need at least one hour of training.

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