What types of sexual harassment can occur in California workplaces?

Sexual harassment at work can be divided into two main categories: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. California law prohibits both types of sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo

Sexual harassment of this kind occurs when a worker is pressured to perform sexual favors in return for job benefits or due to the threat of negative employment action. Job benefits can include a promotion, better pay or other preferential treatment.

Adverse employment actions can consist of termination, demotion or bad performance review, among others. For example, an employee may be fired or denied a promotion for refusing to partake in sexual activity or reporting sexual harassment.

An employee does not have to participate in the quid pro quo demand in order for the sexual harassment to be illegal. Innuendo or subtle hints can be considered sexual harassment, provided that a reasonable person is likely to view the behavior as a demand or threat.

Hostile work environment

Sexual harassment involving a hostile work environment consists of an employee experiencing unwanted behavior that is severe enough to interfere with their job performance or create a work environment that is negative or offensive. Unwelcome sexual advances, comments about physical appearance and sexually inappropriate jokes are examples of conduct that can create a hostile work environment. A single, isolated incident may also result in it.

Sexual harassment needs only to be pervasive or severe to create a hostile work environment. The nature of the conduct, its frequency and the context in which it occurs are all taken into account.

It is not necessary for an employee to be the intended target of sexual harassment to experience a hostile work environment. For example, an employee who repeatedly sees a supervisor harassing female workers may have a sexual harassment claim that falls in this category.

An employee who has experienced sexual harassment of any kind should speak to an experienced employment law attorney. At Erlich Law Firm, we help workers understand how the law applies to their situation and explain their legal options.

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