The term “sexual harassment” is all over the news: for example, the $20 million settlement paid out to Gretchen Carlson, a TV host who accused former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes of pervasive sexual harassment over several years. California has strong laws against sexual harassment that our employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates have blogged about before.
The law protecting employees in California against sexual harassment and retaliation is called the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The FEHA also protects employees against discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on disability, race, ethnic origin, age, gender identity, and other protected categories or classes. This post will focus on sexual harassment only.
FEHA protects employees, applicants, contractors, volunteers, and unpaid interns against sexual harassment. If a company or entity has one employee, the FEHA applies. This is important because almost every company will have at least one employee and is therefore subject to the FEHA. Companies must protect their employees against sexual harassment.
Does it matter who the harasser is? Yes, absolutely! If a supervisor is the harasser, then the employer is strictly liable. In other words, if a supervisor sexually harasses an employee, then the employer is liable even if the employee does not report the sexual harassment. Supervisors are treated as agents of the employer: they act on the employer’s behalf. According to FEHA, a supervisor (a) hires, disciplines, or fires other employees, (b) acts on other employees’ complaints or recommends action, (c) or directs the daily work of the employees.
An employer is liable for actions of employees who are not supervisors IF the employer knew or should have know about the harassment and failed to take immediate effective action to stop it. The words “knew or should have known” mean that an employer has to have notice that one of its employees is harassing another employee. Best practice is to report any harassment immediately to a supervisor or HR and keep detailed notes about the report and any response from the supervisor or HR. If possible, report the harassment in writing.
Sexual harassment can be difficult to deal with but California employees have a right to a harassment-free workplace. The experienced Los Angeles employment lawyers at Stephen Danz & Associates have successfully handled many sexual harassment cases against the biggest companies. We are happy to talk to you and advise you about your rights. The first consultation is always free. You can reach us at (877) 789-8707 or at https://www.employmentattorneyca.com/contact-us/