What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a term we hear commonly, in the workplace and elsewhere.  Technically, it refers to a form of sex discrimination that violates both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. sections 2000e, et seq.) as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Cal. Government Code sections 12900 et seq.).   Note that Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, while the FEHA applies to employers with only 5 or more employees.    Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.  Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances and you should note the following:  The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.  The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.  The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.  Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.  The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.  If you feel you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is helpful to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. You should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available and know that if any retaliation is taken against you, that, too is illegal.  When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, the EEOC and California DFEH look at the overall circumstances, including the nature of the sexual advances and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.

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