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Sexual harassment and what it entails

California workers may know that sexual harassment is forbidden in the workplace by both federal and state law. Yet, many may be unaware of what defines sexual harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 considers it an act of discrimination. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act protects employees from sexual or gender harassment in the workplace as well as harassment due to childbirth, pregnancy or other gender-specific medical conditions.

Sexual harassment cases are divided into those that evolve from a hostile work environment or those that involve demanding sexual favors to get a job, promotion or raise. In some cases, not providing sex may result in termination. Both sexual harassment and being retaliated against because sexual harassment was reported are prohibited.

When an employee leaves a job due to a sexually charged and abusive work environment, such as visual promotion of sex, physical conduct, rude jokes or verbal insults, the employer may be held accountable. If the harassment occurred due to a supervisor's actions, the employer is directly responsible. If it occurred due to the actions of non-supervisory personnel, then it depends on whether the employer took steps to educate his or her employees or should have been aware of the situation. An employer is obligated to take whatever steps are necessary to stop sexual harassment. Posting the laws governing sexual issues in the workplace and having an easily accessed complaint process are two such steps.

If employers fail to acknowledge complaints of sexual harassment and take definitive steps to end it, they may be considered accountable and liable. An employee may seek the advice of an attorney concerning the procedures of filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Source: ca.gov, "Fair Employment and Housing - Sexual Harassment", September 30, 2014

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