Sexual Harassment - Employer Protection

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is generally defined by law as (a) quid pro quo harassment which occurs when employment is conditioned on the submission to unwelcomed sexual advances, or (b) unwelcomed sexual conduct that was severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive environment for the employee.


Who can sue for sexual harassment in the work place?

Any person who works for a company can sue for sexual harassment.


Does the sexual harassment have to be perpetrated by a member of the opposite sex?

No. Both male and female employees are protected by law and are protected from sexual harassment by a member of the same sex even if the perpetrator and / or victim are not homosexuals.


Does there need to be actual touching for sexual harassment to occur?

No. Sexual harassment includes a large range of inappropriate behavior including requests for sexual favors, unwanted sexual advances or propositions, verbal conduct, slurs or derogatory comments, and comments about a person's body, appearance, or sexual activity.

Conduct including leering looks, offensive gestures, and derogatory posters, cartoons, or drawings have been found sufficient by courts to create a hostile environment.


Are sexual harassment cases limited to the work place?

No. The most common cases of sexual harassment arise out of employment relations. However, the California Legislative has passed laws prohibiting sexual harassment in a very wide range of business, service, and professional relationships.


Must sexual harassment be directed at me?

Under California law, if sexual harassment permeates an employee's work environment, an employee may have a claim even if the harassing conduct is not directed at the employee personally, but occurs in the employee's presence.

Whether the harassment is directed at the employee or another person, for the plaintiff to recover damages, he or she must establish that the harassment was severe or pervasive. The court will look at the frequency of the conduct, the severity of the conduct, whether the conduct was physically threatening, humiliating, or was an offensive utterance, and whether the conduct reasonably interfered with the employee's work performance. Courts will generally hold that any sexual touching reaches the severe standard.


Can an employee win a sexual harassment case if it is only his or her word against the perpetrator's?

Yes, but it is difficult to do so. Plaintiffs may prevail in "he said / she said" cases if the plaintiff is more credible than the defendant. It clearly helps if there are other witnesses to the sexual harassment or evidence that the perpetrator has harassed other employees.


Is insurance available to protect employers against claims of sexual harassment?

Absolutely. Contact: Independent Insurance Agents of California for a quote.