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The #MeToo Movement—Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

The #MeToo Movement—Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

Sad woman in officeIt 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.

Holiday Parties and Harassment, Not a Good Combination

Holiday Parties and Harassment, Not a Good Combination

Colleagues at a holiday partyIt’s the most wonderful time of the year, when everyone is bustling around preparing for the holidays and yet, they still get to find time to attend the obligatory office holiday party. The holiday party has evolved over the years from the blow out, open bar event to more subdued gatherings. Some employers now opt for employee only soirees without spouses or significant others. Others issue “drink tickets” in an attempt to limit the amount of alcohol consumed.

Even still, we have all heard a tale or two of the poor unfortunate soul who has a little too much to drink at the holiday party and finds themselves in an embarrassing situation. For some, this may be a version of Elaine’s holiday office party dance on Seinfeld, but for others it may be something more serious. One need only look to today’s headlines to find examples of where these events may go if individuals throw caution, good judgment and common courtesy to the wind.

What is key for all those who attend holiday office parties to remember is that your employer’s policies and procedures concerning harassment and sexual harassment in particular apply at company sponsored events and to non-employees. In fact, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act provides employers may be held liable for harassment by non-employees in certain situations. Accordingly, even if the harasser is not your co-worker, your employer likely still has an obligation to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the conduct.

Examples of inappropriate conduct can include conduct that is visual, verbal and physical. It may be a flirtatious comment about one’s appearance, an expression of a sexual desire/fantasy, or an inappropriate touching. In more egregious cases it may involve someone exposing themselves or, worse, sexually assaulting a co-worker. It is also common in today’s electronic communication to see inappropriate text messages or photos.

Individuals who operate under the assumption that because they are “off the clock” or out of the office, they are free to engage in whatever conduct they choose do so at their own peril. It is not uncommon for complaints of sexual harassment to stem from employees behaving badly at holiday parties. This can sometimes lead to an unhappy new year with a formal investigation or possible termination of employment.

It is important for employees to understand they have the same ability to report inappropriate and unwelcome behavior that occurs at office events, or other work-related events, even if they are after hours, off-site or the alleged harasser is not an employee. If you or someone you know has been subjected to inappropriate behavior at the yearly holiday party or another company sponsored event, you should report the conduct immediately. Employers are required to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into such complaints. Additionally, employees who report such conduct in good faith are protected from retaliation under both state and federal laws. If you have been subjected to inappropriate conduct and your employer has failed to take action, you should contact an experienced employment attorney immediately to discuss your rights.

Matt D’Abusco and Cynthia Sandoval, partners at Ares Law Group, P.C., with a combined 30 years of experience in employment law and litigation, have handled a multitude of sexual harassment cases.  Ares Law Group’s background and experience allows its attorneys to approach cases in a unique manner. Understanding how their adversaries view and defend cases, their strategic perspective is invaluable to clients.