While the news cycle moves on to the next hot button issue each week (sometimes, daily), in our post-#metoo world, it is important to remember that workplace sexual harassment is against the law. You have rights, and in this three-part series we explore three aspects of workplace sexual harassment. In this post, we will do an overview.
To put it simply, it is illegal to harass an employee or potential employee based on their sex. This includes sexual harassment and unwelcome sexual advances. This can be requests for sex or sexual favors, sexually charged verbal assaults and physical contact.
Sexual nature not required
Remember inappropriate behavior does not have to be sexual in nature. It just needs to be based on your sex (or perceived sex). As such, offensive comments about women generally can qualify as illegal sex-based harassment. In addition, the victim can be either a man or a woman, and the harasser can also be the same or different sex.
Hostile work environment
This does not mean that one offhand comment qualifies as illegal harassment. The law makes a distinction between simple, lighthearted teasing and offhand comments. It also draws a distinction between isolated incidents that are not part of a pattern and practice. Instead, the harassment must be so severe that the harassment creates a hostile (or offensive) work environment. In addition, if the harassment resulted in an adverse employment decision, or if the adverse employment decision was made based on sex, both would likely qualify as illegal.
Sexual harassment was made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This prohibition applies to all federal, state and local government employees and to all private employers with 15 or more employees. Moreover, Title VII applies to all labor organizations and employment agencies, regardless of their employment numbers. However, keep in mind that you must file your charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the illegal behavior. For federal employees that timeline is reduced to 45 days to contact the EEOC.
Where the federal government cannot step in to help, California and local laws may be able to step in and provide coverage. As such, for our Oakland, California, readers facing sexual harassment, know you have rights, but you may need to contact an attorney to fight for them.