The Facts About Sexual Harassment
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) defines sexual harassment as harassment based on sex or of a sexual nature; gender harassment; and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The definition of sexual harassment includes many forms of offensive behavior, including harassment of a person of the same gender as the harasser. The following is a partial list of types of sexual harassment:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Actual or threatened retaliation
- Leering; making sexual gestures; or displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters
- Making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, or jokes
- Sexual comments including graphic comments about an individual’s body; sexually degrading words used to describe an individual; or suggestive or obscene letters, notes, or invitations
- Physical touching or assault, as well as impeding or blocking movements
All employers must take the following actions against harassment:
- Take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. If harassment does occur, take effective action to stop any further harassment and to correct any effects of the harassment.
- Develop and implement a sexual harassment prevention policy with a procedure for employees to make complaints and
- for the employer to investigate complaints. Policies should include provisions to:
- Fully inform the complainant of his/her rights and any obligations to secure those rights.
- Fully and effectively investigate. The investigation must be thorough, objective, and complete. Anyone with information regarding the matter should be interviewed. A determination must be made and the results communicated to the complainant, to the alleged harasser and, as appropriate, to all others directly concerned.
- Take prompt and effective corrective action if the harassment allegations are proven. The employer must take appropriate action to stop the harassment and ensure it will not continue. The employer must also communicate to the complainant that action has been taken to stop the harassment from recurring. Finally, appropriate steps must be taken to remedy the complainant’s damages, if any.
- Post the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) employment poster (DFEH - 162) in the workplace (available through the DFEH publications line  478-7201 or Web site).
- Distribute an information sheet on sexual harassment to all employees. An employer may either distribute this pamphlet (DFEH 185)
- or develop an equivalent document that meets the requirements of Government Code section 12950(b). This pamphlet may be duplicated in any quantity. However, this pamphlet is
- not to be used in place of a sexual harassment prevention policy, which all employers are required to have.
- All employees should be made aware of the seriousness of violations of the sexual harassment policy and must be cautioned against using peer pressure to discourage harassment victims from complaining.
- Employers who do business in California and employ 50 or more part-time or full-time employees must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training every two years to each supervisory employee and to all new supervisory employees within six months of their assumption of a supervisory position.
A program to eliminate sexual harassment from the workplace is not only required by law, but is the most practical way for an employer to avoid or limit liability if harassment should occur despite preventive efforts.
All employers, regardless of the number of employees, are covered by the harassment section of the FEHA. Employers are generally liable for harassment by their supervisors or agents. Harassers, including both supervisory and non-supervisory personnel, may be held personally liable for harassing an employee or coworker or for aiding and abetting harassment.
Additionally, the law requires employers to take “all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring.” If an employer has failed to take such preventive measures, that employer can be held liable for the harassment. A victim may be entitled to damages, even though no employment opportunity has been denied and there is no actual loss of pay or benefits.
In addition, if an employer knows or should have known that a non-employee (e.g. client or customer) has sexually harassed an employee, applicant, or person providing services for the employer and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action, the employer may be held liable for the actions of the non-employee.
An employer might avoid liability if
- the harasser is not in a position of authority, such as a lead, supervisor, manager or agent;
- the employer had no knowledge of the harassment;
- there was a program to prevent harassment; and
- once aware of any harassment, the employer took immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment.
Filing a Complaint
Employees or job applicants who believe that they have been sexually harassed may file a complaint of discrimination with DFEH within one year of the harassment.
DFEH serves as a neutral fact-finder and attempts to help the parties voluntarily resolve disputes.
If DFEH finds sufficient evidence to establish that discrimination occurred and settlement efforts fail, the Department may file a formal accusation. The accusation will lead to either a public hearing before the Fair Employment and Housing Commission or a lawsuit filed by DFEH on behalf of the complaining party.
If the Commission finds that discrimination has occurred, it can order remedies including:
- Fines or damages for emotional distress from each employer or person found to have violated the law
- Hiring or reinstatement
- Back pay or promotion
- Changes in the policies or practices of the involved employer
Employees can also pursue the matter through a private lawsuit in civil court after a complaint has been filed with DFEH and a Right-to-Sue Notice has been issued.
For more information, see publication DFEH-159 “Guide for Complainants and Respondents.”
For more information, contact DFEH toll free at
Sacramento area & out-of-state at (916) 478-7200
TTY number at (800) 700-2320
or visit our Web site at www.dfeh.ca.gov
In accordance with the California Government Code and ADA requirements, this publication can be made available in Braille, large print, computer disk, or tape cassette as
a disability-related reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability. To discuss how to receive a copy of this publication in an alternative format, please contact DFEH at the numbers above.
State of California
Department of Fair Employment & Housing
Source of all of the above, emphasis in original:
Reprinted as a example of sexual harassment policy on a state level.
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