Since January in 2015, California began requiring sexual harassment training as a way to combat the rampant sexual harassment issues occurring in workplaces all over the country. Sexual harassment is the most common type of harassment, making up about 50 percent of the complaints. In one survey, 16 percent of employees didn’t understand what sexual harassment was.
These training sessions provide clarity on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it. These trainings should help inform employees on the importance of keeping sexual harassing jokes, comments, and behavior out of the workplace. Every employee has to participate in mandatory sexual harassment training in California for any company with over five employees. It is the responsibility of the employer to facilitate and record these training sessions. It is also the responsibility of the employer to facilitate any sexual harassment complaints they have knowledge of.
What is Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is any form of harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Harassment can involve unwanted sexual advances or behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily mean sexual harassment is always motivated by sexual desire. Other forms of sexual harassment can involve discrimination of an individual based on their gender. Sexual harassment victims aren’t always the ones that the behavior is aimed at, it can include anyone whose work environment has been compromised due to these behaviors.
There are two types of sexual harassment:
- Hostile work environment occurs when these behaviors interfere with an individual’s ability to perform their work. This can include comments, behaviors, or objects that create an offensive, intimidating, or hostile workplace.
- Quid pro quo harassment is when an individual’s job satisfaction is conditioned upon the sexual favors. Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that,” which basically means the harasser requires some type of sexual favor in exchange for promotions, job security, or any other work benefits.
Sexual harassment includes many types of behaviors. When the lines of acceptable behavior are blurred or not well defined, many employers find themselves dealing with more sexual harassment cases. For a list of sexual harassment behaviors, check out this list. These behaviors include everything from whistling at a co-worker, to asking for sexual favors. Also included in sexual harassment is if important work decisions are made based on gender. This is considered discrimination and is against the law.
Under California law, all employers are required to maintain a discrimination free workplace for their employees. They are required to take steps to prevent any harassment from occurring, and provide reasonable consequences when harassment does occur. Employers are required to take certain preventative measures to avoid harassment. These measures can be done with the help of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or internally. If done internally, the following requirements must be met:
- Distribute literature and brochures to all employees explaining the sexual harassment discrimination laws in California
- Have anti-sexual harassment posters and paraphernalia hanging inside the office or work space.
- Create a reasonable and thorough sexual harassment policy for your company. It needs to be in writing and distributed to every employee. This policy should cover what behaviors are prohibited and what actions will be taken if sexual harassment does occur. It also needs to provide multiple lines of communication to management if an incident does occur.
- Train supervisors every two years on the correct way to handle harassment claims. This includes how to handle a complaint, the correct procedure for investigating that complaint, and the necessary action to be taken once the investigation is complete.
- Train employees every two years on what sexual harassment is, how to report it, and the procedure for how sexual harassment claims will be handled.
The employer has a responsibility to providing the tools and resources for sexual harassment claims. This can include anonymous hotlines for employees to use and help for the victims of sexual harassment. For a complete list of the employer’s responsibilities regarding sexual harassment claims, check out www.dfeh.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/03/SexualHarassmentFactSheet_ENG.pdf.
If an individual or company are found violating these discrimination laws, legal action can be taken. In cases where an employer was aware of the harassment and did not provide reasonable steps to rectify the situation, they can be held liable for harassment or aiding in harassment. If the employer fails to provide appropriate preventative measures, they can also be held liable.
Employers are responsible to protect their employees from any type of discriminatory, hostile work behavior. Your company could suffer not just legal action, but loss of productivity and a lack of loyalty within the company if this type of behavior is allowed to continue. The best way to handle sexual harassment is prevent it with policies, training, and a lot of communication about what behaviors will be allowed in the workplace.