Q. I believe I am being sexually harassed at work. What are my rights?
A. Sexual harassment is unlawful and your employer has a legal obligation to protect you from it.
The definition of sexual harassment includes behavior that creates a hostile work environment, interfering with your ability to perform your job, and behavior that conditions employment benefits (like a raise, promotion or continued employment) on submission to sexual conduct.
A hostile work environment may include sexual comments, i.e. about sex or body parts, sexual propositions or sexual jokes. It may also include visual conduct, such as leering, gestures or pictures and physical conduct such as touching or blocking movements. The conduct must be severe or pervasive (frequent) and unwelcome to be regarded as harassing.
The law protects you against a hostile work environment even if the conduct is not performed by a supervisor. Your employer must also address harassment from a co-worker or customer/client.
As a victim of sexual harassment, you may be entitled to monetary damages based on the harassment alone. You do not need to show that you have been denied an employment opportunity or loss in pay.
If you believe you are being sexually harassed, you should report the conduct to your employer. Your employer is legally obligated to put an end to any harassment that is brought to their attention. When it comes to harassment by a supervisor, however, your employer may be liable whether or not it knew about it.
Your employer must immediately and thoroughly investigate reports of sexual harassment. If harassment is found, your employer must take prompt and effective remedial action and communicate the action to you. Your employer must also prevent further harassment.
The law prohibits retaliation for complaints of sexual harassment whether or not harassment is found. Retaliation may include any action that materially and negatively affects the terms and conditions of your employment, including demotion, an unwanted transfer or termination. You may also be entitled to monetary damages resulting from any retaliation.
If you have suffered harassment or retaliation, you should consult a lawyer to determine potential remedies.
Bobby Shukla represents individuals in employment law matters. She can be reached at (415) 986-1338.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is generalized and not for purposes of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice regarding your particular circumstance.