What You Need to Know About California Sexual Harassment Laws

Author: Nicki Malekadeli
Posted on: April 26, 2019

Sexual harassment is a breach of human rights as it violates one’s dignity and threatens a peaceful environment with intimidation, hostility, and humiliation. People who fall victim to sexual harassment carry its effects long after its occurrence, manifesting it in physiological, psychological, and sociological manners.

81 percent of women and 43 percent of men in California have reported having experienced some form of molestation at least once in their life based on a recent online survey. Active measures are in place and are constantly under review for improvement to combat the widespread problem of sexual harassment due to its detrimental consequences.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances towards an individual, ranging from physical and verbal approaches to cyber misconduct of a sexual nature. Specific elements must be presented and proven before one can have a compelling sexual harassment case. The act should first be established to have been undesired, non-consensual, or offensive.

Secondly, the misdemeanor must either have the element of severity or regularity. One-time incidents that are considered to be minor infractions such as catcalling, explicit jokes, light touching, and the like are less likely to be sanctioned because the law requires them to have happened frequently for a significant amount of time. Severe cases such as sexual assault or rape, however, need not have occurred more than once to be deemed valid in court and are punishable regardless if they were mere attempts or actually carried out.

Pervasiveness is also a crucial point that is considered during the investigation. A complaint is fortified when the perpetrator’s actions were found to have turned the victim’s environment into an unfavorable space. While sworn statements regarding feelings of uneasiness and discomfort are enough to move a case forward, tangible evidence of abuse speed up the process in favor of the complainant.

Sexual harassment is a serious form of sex discrimination that can affect anyone regardless of gender. Cases are most often reported to have happened in public spaces, while some have also occurred in protected and sacred areas.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), one out of five men and one out of four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The place where an individual works at is cited to be one of the most frequent locations where sexual harassment is first encountered.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is legally categorized as follows:

  • Quid Pro Quo. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when someone of a higher rank offers professional favors to an employee in exchange for unwelcome sexual favors. This also covers making conditional employment terms and other efforts that threaten one’s career if the sexual advances were to be rejected.
  • Hostile Work Environment. This type of sexual harassment is when the workplace has become uncomfortable and inconducive for meaningful work as a result of unwanted sexual incidents and behaviors.

Both quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment are violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination towards an employee in terms of job benefits and overall employment status because of his or her race, color, sex, or religion. Employers may also become liable for cases of sexual harassment if their lack of action after being made aware of such incidents are proven.

California Sexual Harassment Laws

Anti-sexual harassment laws have been made more robust and in favor of complainants amidst the rise of the #MeToo movement. In California, Title VII is supplemented by the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which serves as the primary safeguard against sexual harassment in the workplace. Various bills in 2019 have taken effect to further improve both preventive and remedial systems that combat this type of sex discrimination.

Senate Bill 826

Senate Bill 826 encourages gender diversity in high-ranking positions. By the end of 2019, companies are required to have at least one female director. This number is then made to increase by at least two by 2021 on five-member boards and at least three when there are six or more directors. SB 826 is grounded on the findings of sexual harassment case experts that point to the positive impact of having a female presence in decision-making bodies on handling sex discrimination problems.

Senate Bill 1300

This Senate bill prevents employers from requiring their workers to sign limiting documents that are crafted to the employer or company’s advantage. With this law in place, people are to refuse signing contracts with agreements stating that they are not allowed to file complaints under the FEHA. Contracts with nondisparagement provisions are also banned under SB 1300, meaning that employees would have greater freedom to pursue necessary actions when faced with illegal activity in the workplace, including but not limited to sexual harassment.

Senate Bill 820

Under SB 820, settlement agreements must cross out provisions that prevent complainants from disclosing information about the case. Although it does not require such agreements to be made public, it does aim to prevent grave issues from being swept under the rug and hinder sexual offenders the opportunity to victimize other people.

Senate Bill 1343

The SB 1343 widens the scope of the number and type of employees who must undergo sexual harassment training programs as opposed to requiring supervisors to clock in two hours of training every two years in a company of 50 or more employees. Employers are now mandated to fulfill this requirement if they have at least five workers. All other employees must also receive one hour of training within the first six months of their recruitment and every two years after that.

What to do in Case of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Recognizing the first signs of sexual harassment is one of the most important things to do in case of such incidents. Once you feel as though you have been abused or made to feel discriminated against, escalate the case to the proper authorities as follows to protect yourself:

  • Report to Human Resources. Inform an in-house company supervisor first before going to higher judicial figures. This ensures that they have been informed of the situation explicitly and can, therefore, be held liable in case of inaction.
  • File a Case to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH will help you make claims to damages and safeguard you from retaliation.
  • File a Civil Lawsuit in the California Supreme Court. After filing a complaint with the DFEH, the accused is required to respond. If his or her response is unsatisfactory, you will receive a “right to sue” from the department prompting you to proceed with the lawsuit in the supreme court.

Seek Legal Assistance from Sexual Harassment Attorneys

Sexual harassment is one of the most distressing events a person could ever experience. Intimidating elements such as powerplays and career threats demotivate victims from coming forward and getting the justice they deserve from sexual harassment incidents. Although knowing your rights and being familiar with federal and state laws can help you, it is essential that you seek help from experienced sexual harassment lawyers to better your case.

Mesriani Law Group houses talented and experienced employment law attorneys that will guide through the entire process with compassion and expertise. We follow a No Win No Fee agreement, guaranteeing you get impeccable service from filing the complaint to collecting your claims. Contact our Los Angeles law firm today and get a free consultation with one of our brilliant sexual harassment lawyers today.