Your Sexual Harassment Rights During COVID-19
As the country continues to acclimate to a post-COVID-19 world, record numbers of Californians now find themselves unemployed, laid off, working remotely or trying to keep up with rapidly changing safety guidelines and rules. As we adjust to the new normal, sexual harassment still occurs in every industry.
What sexual harassment looks like will likely continue to evolve along with working conditions. However, it remains an illegal form of discrimination. Workers still have the right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment and retaliation, even while working from home or while laid off.
California Law Protects Workers
Federal and state laws exist to protect employees from sexual harassment at work. You have the right to work in an environment free from discrimination based on gender, sex or sexual orientation Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against victims and reporters of sexual harassment. California has some of the strongest safeguards in place in the country, going beyond what is offered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and closing the gaps in coverage left by federal law. The Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, applies to all California employers, including independent contractors, interns, and volunteers –not only those officially classified as employees.
Even with serious consequences in place for employers who violate the law, sexual harassment is prevalent. Sometimes victims and reporters of sexual harassment arefired, laid off, and otherwise punished for speaking out in a misguided effort to suppress a sexual harassment case. This silence people who have been harassed, but it also discourages others from coming forward when they are harassed and creates an environment that normalizes sexual harassment.
What Are Your Rights?
In these unprecedented times, workers still have rights regarding sexual harassment, and there are essential actions to take to protect them. Detailed documentation of harassment and any action taken against the harassment can become critical if you decide to file a lawsuit.Accordingly, it is wise to take notes and keep them someplace safe. Save screenshots and printed copies of texts and emails or other evidence of harassment and communications.
- As long as it is safe to do so, confront the harasser about their behavior. Although this is likely uncomfortable, it will hopefully resolve the situation. If that does not happen, it will help demonstrate a critical point: that the harassment is unwanted.
- Complain to your employer if confronting the harasser is not possible or too uncomfortable. There may be information in your Employee Handbook setting forth steps for you to follow it. You may report the harassment to a supervisor or the Human Resources department. Employers are generally required to investigate complaints of sexual harassment, but they have to know about it first. Formal notification provides the employer with the opportunity to help and can establish your right to take legal action against your employer if they fail to act appropriately in response.An employer is generally liable only if (1) the harasser is a supervisor, or (2) where the employer was aware of the sexual harassment but did not take action to prevent it from continuing.
- File a complaint with a state or federal agency. In California, you may file one with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is an option if the employer ignores your internal complaint or does not handle it appropriately. An employment attorney can assist you in preparing and filing this complaint.
- You may be able to file a lawsuit in court against your employer and harasser. You will want an experienced, tireless legal team like Strong Advocates to represent you in your case.
Even if your employer says that you were fired or laid off due to COVID, you may still have a strong case based on sexual harassment and retaliation.The employer may simply be using COVID as an excuse for taking illegal action against you. It is critical to take quick action against sexual harassment. There are time limits for filing a claim, which may affect your ability to take legal action.
Sexual Harassment and Unemployment Benefits
In some cases, sexual harassment in the workplace becomes severe enough to make you consider leaving your job. In other instances, an employer will terminate a worker for complaining about sexual harassment. In either circumstance, it is important to follow protocol to protect any unemployment benefit entitlement rights and your ability to file a sexual harassment claim.
Under California law, employees who quit their job must have done so with “good cause” to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Sexual harassment could qualify as good cause when it is severe or pervasive, but the employee must show that they tried to keep their job. This usually means that the employer must have been notified and given a chance to address the situation. If the employer refuses to help or does not act, then the employee may feel that quitting is appropriate and could still be entitled to unemployment benefits.
When applying for unemployment benefits, evidence of good cause and any action taken by the employee to avoid leaving their job could be requested. This is yet another instance in which detailed documentation regarding the sexual harassment itself and the efforts made to stop it can become valuable.
An Experienced Employment Attorney Can Help
Experiencing sexual harassment is stressful, and reporting it is intimidating, but there is no need to go through it alone. With the help of an experienced employment attorney, you can find the best course of action. They will help you stand up to your harasser and the employer who violated your rights and make sure your claim is filed on time and with all the necessary information.
Companies understand how serious sexual harassment is and will sometimes do whatever it takes to diminish it to avoid the consequences. An attorney can help you hold them accountable and get you the full compensation and benefits to which you could be entitled.
For more information on how Strong Advocates can help you when you have experienced sexual harassment and to discuss the details of your case, contact (800) 870-9886 for a confidential consultation.