Sexual Harassment Lawyers in Walnut Creek, CA
A colleague tells risqué jokes in front of you while giving you suggestive glances. A manager constantly stands behind you as you work on your computer; leaning over your shoulder and (you suspect), looking down your blouse. A coworker continues to ask you out, even though you have politely said “no” on numerous occasions. Most of us have experienced something like this at some point in our career, or at least have witnessed something similar. You may have wondered at the time whether the actions or words were simply a joke gone wrong, carelessness, or whether the sexual harassment “line” had been crossed.
Nobody wants to be “that” person—the one everyone thinks “can’t take a joke.” As a result, there tends to be a strong culture of silence surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace. Yet when a behavior crosses a line and makes you uncomfortable at work, it is time to speak up. The sexual harassment lawyers at Vanegas Law Group comprise the premier law firm for comprehensive employment and business counsel throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
At Vanegas Law Group, we lead with compassion, courage, and honesty as we partner with our clients to help them achieve their goals. We have significant experience representing businesses and individuals in workplace issues. We are highly skilled negotiators as well as fierce litigators.
This means that while we will work hard to resolve the most heated dispute as amicably as possible, we never hesitate to take a case to court. We know how to navigate the complex employment laws of California, providing the seasoned guidance you need and deserve—and we never shy away from a difficult case. The sexual harassment lawyers at Vanegas Law Group will provide you with the insight and resources you need and trust during this difficult time. Contact us today to see how we can help you.
How To Identify Sexual Harassment
Actionable sexual harassment in the workplace can be difficult to identify due to its pervasiveness and the nuanced nature of its legal definition. Have you ever wondered whether an unwanted advance was simply flirting—and when it crossed the line into sexual harassment? In short, when the comments or advances coming from the person in question are repeated on multiple occasions and are affecting your ability to do your work or when your physical or mental health is affected, you are likely the victim of sexual harassment. There are essentially two forms of sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo harassment—Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employment decision that directly affects you or how you are treated in the workplace is based on whether you submit to an unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. Quid pro quo harassment can be subtle, in that the manager or other authority figure may hint or imply that you will be given a raise or promotion in return for a sexual favor of some type.
- Hostile work environment sexual harassment—If you are experiencing offensive, unwanted behavior of a sexual nature from a co-worker or superior, this is considered hostile work environment sexual harassment. The behaviors must be so severe or pervasive that it creates an offensive or hostile work environment or result in adverse employment decisions. Any conduct that is directed at you because of your sex that unreasonably interferes with your work performance constitutes a hostile work environment.
Sexual harassment does not have to be between a man and a woman; same-sex harassment also occurs in the workplace—and is also prohibited. The conduct can be in the form of unwelcome sexual advances between same-sex colleagues or manager/employees or can involve something like a male supervisor consistently making derogatory comments (using sexually insulting language) about a male subordinate. Sexual harassment need not be motivated by sexual desire, the only requirement is that the conduct is “because of” the victim’s sex.
Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace can be verbal, or non-verbal, covering a wide array of behaviors. Some common examples of verbal sexual harassment include:
- Sexual teasing that is unwanted
- Unwelcome sexual jokes
- Continuous “wolf whistles” or “catcalls”
- Inappropriate, unwelcome comments regarding your gender, your appearance, or your body
- A co-worker or supervisor making sounds that imitate sexual actions
- Sexual innuendos
- Constantly turning work discussions to topics related to sex
- Questions regarding your sexual experiences, sexual desires, or sexual orientation that are unwanted and that make you uncomfortable
- Rumor-spreading in the workplace about your sex life
- Sexual comments about your body or your clothing
- Referring to your gender in a derogatory manner (i.e., calling women “skirts,” “heifers,” “bimbos,” “twats,” etc.)
When a co-worker, colleague, supervisor, or manager uses physical proximity to sexually intimidate you or touches you in an unwelcome manner, they are engaging in physical sexual harassment. Some examples of physical sexual harassment may include:
- Constantly brushing up against you when there is no need to do so
- Hugging you after being asked not to
- Giving you a shoulder or neck massage—without asking, or after you have stated you do not want to be touched
- Touching your hair or putting a hand on your back or bottom after being asked not to touch you.
- Standing much too close for no good reason
- “Cornering” you against a wall or object
In some cases, sexual harassment may be neither physical nor verbal, yet it is clearly sexual harassment. Examples of nonverbal sexual harassment include:
- Imitating sexual activity with the body, hands, or objects
- Presenting you repeatedly with inappropriate or unwanted gifts
- Suggestively looking you up and down
- Staring at a specific area of your body
- Displaying vulgar gestures to you, about you, or around you
Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment
Your employer is prohibited under state and federal laws, from punishing you for reporting sexual harassment against you or against another person. Even when your actions did not result in legal action against your employer, you are shielded from acts of retaliation. If, for example, you were demoted after reporting sexual harassment—and can prove the adverse employment action was based on the reporting—your employer can be sued for retaliation. Retaliation may be immediate or can be more subtle, worsening over time, and could include being left out of meetings, or left off of communications you were formerly privy to.
Protections Against Sexual Harassment
Under both state and federal law, it is illegal for an employer to allow anyone in the workplace to be sexually harassed. An employer is also strictly liable for the harassing behavior of its managers and supervisors.
What Should You Do if You Are the Victim of Sexual Harassment?
The decision to report sexual harassment is never an easy one, so make sure you do the following before you take that step:
- Let the person that is harassing you know that what they are doing makes you uncomfortable and you want it to stop. While this can be difficult, it is important for two reasons: the person might genuinely not realize they are making you uncomfortable, and your supervisor or the company’s HR representative will ask whether you tried to stop the situation on your own.
- Make sure you have read—and fully understand—your company handbook regarding policies on sexual harassment. Many companies now clearly define what does and does not constitute harassment in the employee handbook, including the procedure for reporting such violations.
- Carefully document every single incident of sexual harassment. Each and every time the harasser’s behavior has made you feel uncomfortable, write it down, including the date, time, and location. If there were witnesses, note their names as well.
- Report the offense. If your company has a procedure, then follow it as closely as possible. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your supervisor about the harassment, making sure you have written documentation of the meeting. Legally, your company must open an investigation once you have made a claim; if no action is taken, you can file your claim with the EEOC.
What Should an Employer Do if Tthey Receive a Report of Sexual Harassment?
- Advise the victim or person making the reporting of the company’s anti-retaliation policy. Make sure the person making the reporting understands that the company will not allow any retribution to fall on them for making the reporting or complaint. Advise them of the location of your sexual harassment complaint procedure and your anti-retaliation policy in your employee handbook.
- Review and follow your employee handbook regarding policies on sexual harassment, the complaint procedure, and the anti-retaliation policy. Your employee handbook will outline the precise steps you need to take, including conducting a thorough and fair investigation of any sexual harassment complaint.
- Carefully document every report of sexual harassment. Each complaint must be documented and followed-up on in a short time. Do not delay in conducting an investigation.
- Talk to the company’s lawyer. Follow the company’s procedures closely. Talk to the company’s counsel to ensure an investigation you are required to conduct is taking place, and that it is non-biased, thorough, and fair.
How Vanegas Law Group Sexual Harassment Lawyers Can Help
The sexual harassment lawyers at Vanegas Law Group, have a deep understanding and broad experience regarding the issue of workplace sexual harassment. We know the level of stress and anxiety that come with pursuing or defending a sexual harassment lawsuit. We are proactive, evaluating your case objectively, while fully understanding the cost of disputes—monetary costs, as well as the human costs of time, energy, stress, and focusing on the past. Contact Vanegas Law Group to schedule a free initial consultation to advise you about your sexual harassment case.