To file or not to file. That may be the question in the minds of victims of sexual harassment in California. The victim may have to gather evidence quickly and (with sufficient evidence) file a case against the offending party. Time is an important factor here. In California, an individual is given 180 days to file an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and 1 year to seek redress with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

In California, the law makes the employer liable for the actions of its supervisors. Hence, it is the employer’s responsibility to enforce good behavior among its supervisory and managerial employees. When a supervisor blatantly asks for sexual favors in exchange for future employee benefits such as a job promotion, continuation of employment, increase in pay or benefits, that is the foulest kind of sexual harassment. It is the supervisor using the power of his position to exploit an employee who is lower in rank. Such behavior is not limited to a male supervisor over a female subordinate. It may be a female superior over a make subordinate or a gay / lesbian supervisor over a straight subordinate.

Another form of sexual harassment is hostile work environment sexual harassment. This is not as blatant as a supervisor asking for sexual favors. In hostile work environments, supervisors, co-workers or even subordinates act in a manner that will create a hostile work environment for the victim. That behavior may come in the form of groping, sexual or physical advances, sexual innuendos and off-color jokes with sexual undertones. Even if this kind of sexual harassment is not as grave as the “tit for tat / quid pro quo” type of sexual harassment, a person could file charges even with one act of a hostile work environment as long as that act is severe enough. For example, one act of heavy petting or groping of an employee may constitute hostile work environment sexual harassment.

Conversely, several acts of subtle sexually harassing behavior may be grounds for filing charges against the offending employer or supervisor.

In California, it doesn’t even have to be the offended party who will file charges. A sympathetic fellow employee who witnessed the incident of a supervisor asking for sexual favors or of co-workers engaged in hostile work environment sexual harassment may be the one to file charges. An employee who wins in his or her case may be entitled to back wages and other compensation (when applicable), emotional distress damages, attorneys’ fees, and possibly even punitive damages. The latter is intended to sanction the employer for the incidences of sexual harassment in its company.

If you feel you were a victim of sexual harassment, talk to your employment law attorney. The time to act is NOW.

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