It seems like every day provides yet another headlining story about a celebrity, politician, or other high-profile person being accused of sexual harassment in the workplace, often times by multiple different people. While the specifics in each instance are always somewhat unique, an emerging theme is the manner in which the work environment discouraged employees victimized by harassment from coming forward to complain about this highly inappropriate and illegal conduct whether by deliberately ignoring them, threatening their personal or professional success or reputations, questioning their truthfulness, or some other type of retaliation.
Although it seems society is just beginning to sincerely and appropriately believe the work environment, despite industry or an individual’s status, should be completely free of harassment and discrimination, both California and federal law have long prohibited this type behavior. In fact, not only is the conduct itself illegal, but California has long provided employees substantial protections when it comes to making complaints about what an employee reasonably believes to be harassment or discrimination. Note the term “reasonably.” This is a rather significant distinction because, even if the conduct does not actually arise to actionable harassment, the employee is still entitled to considerable protections if he or she “reasonably” believed the conduct constituted harassment. Hopefully, with the exposure the media is providing perpetrators of unlawful workplace harassment, employees will begin to feel more comfortable coming forward to fight back with less fear.
In addition to fear, one of the other reasons employees do not come forward to complain about harassment is the fact the alleged harassment occurred what they believe to be too far in the past. In general, it is true that an employee hoping to pursue a legal claim for sexual harassment must submit their claim to a governmental agency within one (1) year. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. So, if you have experienced harassment in the past, you should always consult with an attorney to determine what legal rights you may have. While there may be nothing actionable in the legal sense, there may be other avenues to explore and, most importantly, you should always know your rights!
Finally, while most of the complaints publicized recently deal with sexual harassment men are perpetrating against women, instances of sexual harassment can also take place with a woman harassing a man or members of the same sex harassing one another. Typically, employees are even more reluctant to raise complaints about these types of harassment because they believe they will be less believable (remember the movie Disclosure where Michael Douglas’ character complained about sexual harassment against Demi Moore?), they are equally improper and illegal in the workplace. In fact, California’s state law provides, sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire to be found unlawful. This principle has often been applied in same sex harassment cases. California law protects employees from all forms of harassment and employees should never feel like this type of conduct needs to be tolerated regardless of the fact it is not perpetrated in the typical manner.
The bottom line is, if you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should speak to a Newport Beach employment attorney as soon as possible. Do not worry about the passage of time—it is more important to know what options are available to you. Eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace will not occur because the spotlight turned on a few celebrities. It will happen when regular people know they do not have to tolerate such conduct and can complain about it without fear of any type of immediate doubt or retaliation.
The employment attorneys at Ares Law Group specialize in handling sexual harassment cases exclusively on behalf of employees. If you have any questions, or would like a free consultation, please feel free to call us at (949) 629-2519.