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What to Do If You Are Being Sexually Harassed at Work

It seems like such a simple question – “what do you do if you are being sexually harassed at work?” But for so many victims throughout California, the answer is anything but simple. While sexual harassment of any nature is a horrendous crime and violation that can cause lingering emotional damage on the victim, sexual harassment in the workplace causes a different type of internal anxiety.

Sexual harassment in the workplace often comes with more baggage than an anonymous sexual harassment encounter since the workplace is seen by so many as a safe environment. You come to work every day and do your job, typically without the worry of an imminent attack. Your employer is charged by the state with a duty to keep you and all other employees safe from discrimination and safe from any inappropriate conduct.

As difficult as it might be, it is important for any victim of sexual harassment to report the incident immediately. The longer you delay in reporting this type of conduct, the higher the likelihood that it will occur again, and may occur to someone else.

If your company has not proved helpful in eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace after reporting the incident, or if you are worried about the implications of reporting the harassment to your superiors, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has procedures in place to assist.

First, you must fill out a “pre-complaint inquiry” within one year from the date of the harassment, which will then be reviewed by a member of the Department to determine whether the harassment has risen to the level of illegality. Once the initial inquiry is received by the Department, an investigator will be assigned to review the details of the discrimination/harassment. You will need to be prepared to discuss the facts of the incident and any documents which corroborate your complaint.

If the complaint is accepted by the Department, it will then be delivered to the person who committed the harassment or discriminatory behavior (the “respondent”). The respondent is legally required to answer your complaint.

At any time during the process, the two parties may decide to go through negotiation. If both parties cannot come to an agreement, the Department will examine the facts of the case to determine whether breach of law occurred during the harassment.  If a law was violated, then both parties are required to go to mediation.

At this point, if no resolution is in sight, you are entitled to file a lawsuit in district court. It is important to keep in mind that if the Department does not accept your complaint, you still have the option of bringing a claim in district court against the respondent. The Department will only accept complaints which violate the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and even harassing behavior may not always rise to that level.

Victims of sexual harassment also have the opportunity to pursue criminal charges in severe situations. California prohibits sexual assault and battery, and both are misdemeanor offenses which can lead to fines and potential jail time. In the end, the victim of sexual harassment has the sole responsibility for reporting the harassment to the appropriate authorities, either state or internal employers. Without reporting, victims run the risk that the harassment will continue, or others will also be subject to the harassment.

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