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What is sexual harassment and what can you do about it?

Many employees in California are victims of sexual harassment every year. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very serious issue, and employees can pursue legal action against their employer or co-worker. Despite the legal action victims can take, many employees may not be aware of when they are being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" that is used for employment decisions or creates a hostile or offensive work environment. 

It is important for employees to know that there are two different types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo means that the person sexually harassing the employees is using the harassment to make decisions. Hostile environment is when the sexual harassment makes a difficult and/or offensive working atmosphere for the employee. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is strictly prohibited by state and federal laws. Employees who are victims of sexual harassment should notify their supervisor about the harassment. If employees don't feel comfortable reporting the harassment or if their direct supervisor is the harasser, employees should report it to their supervisor's supervisor. Employees can also file a claim with the EEOC. 

It can be helpful for employees to keep track of when they were sexually harassed by creating a written record of all incidents of sexual harassment. Employees should write down what happened, who was involved, where and when it occurred, including time and place. It is also helpful to keep track of any other employees who witnessed the incident. 

It is important for employees to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and to report any incidences to their employer as well as the EEOC if they feel it is necessary. Employees can also pursue legal action after being sexually harassed in the workplace. Employees should consult an employment law attorney to discuss their specific cases. 

Source: American Bar Association, "Sexual Harassment," Jan. 8, 2014

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