San Francisco Sexual Harassment Attorneys

At Rukin Hyland, we represent employees in all industries and at all job levels who have experienced sexual harassment at work. We have vast experience helping clients who have experienced sexual harassment and understand how difficult, emotionally stressful, and sensitive these matters can be. We work with our clients to seek a just, effective, and timely resolution of the situation.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and federal law. Despite these laws, sexual harassment remains a prevalent problem for women in the workplace.

There are two types of unlawful sexual harassment – quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee (generally, a manager or supervisor) conditions a term or condition of a person’s employment on her submission to unwelcome sexual advances. Quid pro quo harassment can be either the threat of an adverse employment action (“sleep with me or you’re fired”) or the promise of an employment benefit (“sleep with me and you’ll get a raise”) and is unlawful regardless of whether the person harassed refuses or submits to the unwelcome advances. The quid pro quo can be express or implied, and subtle hints or innuendo can constitute harassment so long as a reasonable woman would have interpreted the conduct to be a threat or demand that she engage in sexual activity as a condition of her job.

Hostile Work Environment

Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive working environment.  Whether the sexual conduct complained of is sufficiently pervasive depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature of the conduct, its frequency, and the context in which it occurs.

Harassment need only be severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. In the case of verbal harassment, an employee generally must show a pattern of ongoing harassment over time to establish a hostile work environment. If the harassment is particularly severe, such as a sexual assault, a single instance can sufficiently alter the terms and conditions of employment and create a hostile work environment. In addition, the status of the harasser may make the harassing conduct more severe, such as harassment by a high-level executive, manager, or owner.

Employees do not have to be the direct target of sexual harassment to experience a hostile work environment. For example, women who constantly witness a manager harassing other female employees may have hostile work environment claim. In addition, if a boss or manager shows favoritism toward an employee with whom he is involved in a sexual relationship, it may create a hostile work environment for other co-workers.

How Do You Know if You’re Being Sexually Harassed?

The following types of verbal or physical conduct can constitute sexual harassment:

See also: How to Tell if You’re Being Sexually Harassed

Who Is Liable For Sexual Harassment?

Under California law, an employer is strictly liable when a manager or supervisor engages in sexual harassment. This means that if a manager or supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate, the employer is automatically liable.  In cases of co-worker sexual harassment, the employer is liable for the harassment only if it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take appropriate corrective action.  In both cases, the employees who engage in the harassment are personally liable for their unlawful conduct.

In addition, employers are liable for harassment by their customers or clients if they know or should have known about the harassment and fail to take action, regardless of the importance of the customer or client to the employer’s business.

What Must Employers Do To Prevent Sexual Harassment?

The FEHA requires all California employers to take affirmative steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces. This includes maintaining and distributing a written anti-harassment policy that must:

In addition, employers with more than 50 employees are required to provide two hours of mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to all of their supervisory employees within six months of their employment and every two years thereafter.

If an employee reports or complaints about sexual harassment, or the employer knows or has reason to know about harassment in its workplace, the employer must take immediate and effective steps to end the harassment.  An employer cannot retaliate against any employee who reports harassment, or who participates in a harassment investigation.