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Understanding your rights and responsibilities when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person's job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. It is a serious problem in California, and you have a right to be protected against sexual harassment at your place of employment. There are both state and federal guidelines that prohibit harassment.

Categories of sexual harassment

  • Hostile work environment includes leering, inappropriate touching and offensive gestures, but it does not have to be of a sexual nature. It can simply be offensive remarks about a person's sex. Both men and women can be the harasser or victim of the harassment. It is not limited in its nature.
  • Quid pro quo is when a person in authority makes promises to you about your employment based on engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship. Generally, your continued employment depends on you complying with this illegal request.

According to the EEOC, simple teasing or isolated incidents do not necessarily constitute harassment. Even if you are not prepared to take a complaint to the people in charge, document everything as it happens. If you do need to take action, you will be prepared.

Do you have options?

If your employment handbook does not address sexual harassment in the workplace, go to the human resources department and make a complaint. You should keep in mind that the employee handbook may not reflect the letter of the law. It is important to speak up when it happens. Address the problem with the person and know that it might be that the harasser is not aware of the mistake. During an investigation, expect your employer to remain impartial. This does not mean the company does not believe you, but they cannot be biased while investigating the complaint. Sometimes, the outcome of a claim will not be what you expected, but you can go to a lawyer at any time.

Talk to an experienced attorney

If your workplace has not taken your complaints seriously, or if the internal complaint did not get results, you should discuss your situation with a legal advocate who can advise you on the law as it pertains to you. Your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you when you seek outside advice. Knowing your rights can help you find a better solution if you are being harassed on the job. You do have the right to a safe work environment.

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