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Legal protections from sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can take many forms in the workplace. One type, which is commonly referred to as quid pro quo harassment, occurs when a person is offered more favorable employment benefits, such as a promotion and increased pay, in return for sexual favors. However, a work environment where suggestive actions, such as sexual gesturing, leering and unwelcome commentary, is commonplace and permitted is considered hostile under California law. Other behaviors, such as unlawful conduct, such as unwanted touching, repeated uninvited social invitations and impeding a person's free movement, may be considered sexual harassment as well. Sexual harassment in the workplace can also occur when the harasser and the person being harassed are of the same gender.

Workplace sexual harassment is prohibited under California law, and the Fair Employment and Housing Act provides legal protections for workers who are subjected to it. It not only includes harassment of a sexual nature, but can also be any offensive or negative employment action based on gender, pregnancy and conditions related to pregnancy.

In California, employers must take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment. However, when it does occur, employers are required to be just as proactive in stopping it, and instituting policies and procedures to prevent it from happening again. When an employee makes a sexual harassment complaint to their employer, the employer must inform that employee of their rights and avenues for redress. The employee may not be retaliated against for making the complaint, and the employer must launch an immediate investigation into the charges made, and take corrective action.

Knowing one's rights under the law after begin subjected to a hostile work environment is important. An employee may benefit from seeking the assistance of legal counsel when their employer is unable or unwilling to provide a work environment free from sexual hostilities.

Source: Department of Fair Employment & Housing, "Sexual Harassment", December 02, 2014

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