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 still too prevalent. Sometimes employers fire, lay off, and otherwise punish victims and reporters of sexual harassment for speaking out in order to cover up a sexual harassment case. This silences people who have been harassed, and discourages others from coming forward when they are harassed. At Strong Advocates, we sue employers for allowing the sexual assault or sexual harassment to occur and for trying to cover it up. We then make sure our clients and witnesses are protected, compensated, and empowered throughout the legal process.
What Are Your Rights?
In these unprecedented times of COVID-19, workers still have rights to not be sexually harassed. Documenting the details and timeline of your harassment and the employers response or inaction is 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. Backup any notes and evidence because cases can be significantly devalued if all your notes are on a computer or cell phone that is lost or destroyed.
- 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 in writing 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. You may report the harassment to a supervisor or the Human Resources department. Employers are 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). 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, compassionate 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. Call Strong Advocates at 800-870-9886 to discuss your case. 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 of the sexual harassment and been 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, the state agency could request from the employee evidence that the employee took action to avoid leaving their job. 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 Sexual Harassment Attorney Can Help
Experiencing sexual harassment is stressful and scary, 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 to protect yourself. Strong Advocates will help you stand up to your harasser and the employer who violated your rights and ensure your legal claim is filed on time and with all the necessary information. We then work to make your case as strong as possible and force your employer to the negotiation table.
By helping you hold them accountable, we can 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.