If you have been the recipient of unwelcome sexual comments or advances in the workplace, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to put up with them.
More than ever, women in California and across the country have been standing up to sexual harassment. Since late 2017, the #MeToo movement has led to a 13.6% increase in the number of sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and women filed 85% of these claims.
What can you do?
It’s important to remember that California law does not limit sexual harassment to actions rooted in desire. Any sex or gender-based speech or actions could be sexual harassment if they are severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.
If someone’s words or actions are transforming your workplace into a hostile environment, you can start with smaller steps and escalate your complaint as necessary:
- Ask the offender to stop. Sometimes this is enough. Communicating clearly and directly with the person harassing you may also help your case later on.
- Document the harassment. Record the details of each new instance of harassment, including the date, the words or actions, and the names of any people involved. Record the names of any potential witnesses.
- Report the harassment. Check your employer’s policy to see if you should report the behavior to your supervisor, human resources or someone else. Make sure to keep a copy of your report for your own records.
- File a complaint with the government. If your employer doesn’t resolve the situation, you can file your complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the EEOC. You typically need to file with one of these agencies before you can sue.
- Continue to document. If the DFEH or EEOC accepts your case for an investigation, you can expect to wait close to one year for the result. In the meantime, you should continue to document any further harassing behaviors.
- Sue for damages. If the DFEH or EEOC do not help you reach a satisfactory resolution, you might be able to file a private suit for damages. Under California law, the individual harassing you is personally liable, and your employer may be liable if they knew about the problem and didn’t try to fix it.
The recent attention focused to sexual harassment claims has also led to better results, and California recently passed new harassment laws. Companies can no longer force employees to accept arbitration for harassment. Nor can companies force employees to sign agreements that keep them silent about illegal activities. The takeaway appears to be that Californians who report sexual harassment in their offices are helping to improve the workplace for everyone.