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Sexual Harassment Warning for Employers

Image of Jack and Diane - Sexual Harassment CaseImagine you are a business owner or manager. Picture yourself at your companies’ Christmas week holiday party at a local pub. Two of your employees (Jack and Diane) have a little too much wine to drink. They start flirting with each other. Both apparently are enjoying each other. Diane manages Jack. Diane, with a slurred voice, says to Jack, “If we dated, I would totally let you work more overtime.” Jack looks uncomfortable, realizing a line has been crossed. Diane follows with, “You know what I’m saying?” This is “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. It’s enough for Jack to file a lawsuit.

What is “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a term of employment is conditioned on submission to unwelcome sexual advances.

Image of a partyNow imagine yourself at your New Year’s holiday party two weeks later. You see two male employees (Luke and Han). They’re friends. Luke isn’t attracted to Han, or anything like that. Luke and Han tend to give each other a hard time about things at work. For example, Han and Luke have contests to see who can print packing labels fastest. At the party, Luke notices Han was winded after jogging back from the bathroom. Luke jokes about how he feels bad for Han’s wife because Han clearly doesn’t have the stamina to satisfy her. People laugh. So, Luke decides he’s going to continue making fun of Han in this way. Han notices you are observing. Han tells Luke to knock it off.

The next day Luke and Han are carrying boxes. Han bends down and Luke whistles. Han tells Luke to knock it off. Luke makes suggested motions anytime Han walks by. This type of “joking” goes on for months. Han keeps telling Luke to stop it. Han told Luke to stop it in front of their supervisor, Lando. But, Lando told Han to “lighten up”.

Han no longer feels comfortable working around Luke, or even Lando. This is “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. It’s enough for Han to file a lawsuit. A hostile work environment is created where the victim’s working environment is made hostile, offensive, oppressive, intimidating, or abusive due to severe or pervasive sexual harassment.

You might be saying, “it’s just a joke. It’s nothing more than employees messing around – right? Luke wasn’t trying to get in Han’s pants or anything.”

Sorry. No. It is illegal. And it can cost you, as the employer, BIG TIME! Under California law, “sex” includes harassment on the basis of a person’s gender, pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy related medical condition. So, harassing a person on the basis of their gender constitutes unlawful sexual harassment, even without any sexual motivation.

What is “Hostile Work Environment” Sexual Harassment?

“Hostile work environment” sexual harassment is created where the victim’s working environment is made hostile, offensive, oppressive, intimidating, or abusive due to severe or pervasive sexual harassment.

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Schedule a strategy session with a McCarthy employer-side employment & business law attorney if you are a business owner or manager. Together with our business/employment attorney, you can examine the company’s unique circumstances and possible legal exposure. Such a strategy session will help keep you out of Court and save you unimaginable financial trauma. The incredible costs of an employee lawsuit can –and often does– financially bankrupt businesses every day here in California.

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