Employment discrimination can happen in many ways, and one often overlooked type of discrimination is harassment based on protected characteristics. Just like your employer cannot make adverse employment decisions based on protected characteristics, they also cannot permit you to experience harassing conduct due to these factors.
Too many employees ensure harassment at work because they are not aware of their rights under the law, or they might not recognize the conduct as being unlawful harassment. If you believe that you might have suffered unlawful harassment, you need to speak with an Orange County employment law attorney as soon as you can.
The law does not prohibit all types of harassing conduct at work, though it does protect you against harassment based on one or more of the following:
- Color, race, or national origin
- Sex or gender
- LGBTQ status
- Age (for older employees)
- Mental or physical disabilities or perceived disabilities
- Marital status
- Pregnancy or childbirth
- Military status
- Medical conditions
If someone at work is engaging in offensive conduct due to one of the above protected characteristics, it should be a red flag that you are the victim of unlawful harassment.
Hostile Work Environment
Just because someone might make a comment or joke about your gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or another factor does not mean that it is workplace harassment. In order for conduct to rise to the level of prohibited harassment, it must create a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment can exist due to one or both of the following:
- Harassing conduct that is persistent and pervasive
- An isolated instance of harassment that is particularly offensive, violent, or threatening
Employees who are experiencing a hostile work environment should report the matter to their employer, usually to the human resources department or a trusted supervisor. Your employer should then immediately take steps to investigate your complaint and stop the harassment from continuing. This might require transferring or even terminating the offending employee.
If your employer allows the hostile work environment to continue, it creates liability for unlawful harassment. You can then take legal action against your employer to seek legal relief, which might include damages for lost income and emotional distress.
In some cases, a hostile work environment that is allowed to persist can become unbearable, and you might feel that you have no choice but to quit your job. If you do, this is considered to be constructive discharge, which is a form of wrongful termination. Even if you voluntarily left your position, your employer can be liable if they left you no choice but to leave due to a hostile work environment.
Sexual harassment is the most commonly complained-about type of harassment, and recent movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have exposed the deep-rooted problem of sexual harassment in many industries. At times, sexual harassment will create a hostile work environment, as discussed above. This might be due to ongoing sexual comments, jokes, explicit messages or photos, unwanted advances, or even unwanted touching. In this situation, employers must be given the opportunity to stop the hostile work environment before liability arises.
However, there is also another form of sexual harassment that is taken particularly seriously under the law. This is called “quid pro quo” harassment, and it involves someone with authority over your job, such as a boss, executive, or supervisor. This individual will make a sexual advance or request sexual conduct from you, and also:
- Offer you a raise, promotion, or another advancement if you agree
- Threaten to fire you or take other adverse action against you if you refuse
When your job is on the line depending on your response to sexual advances, it is a very serious situation. So serious, in fact, that your employer faces automatic liability for quid pro quo harassment. If you experience this type of harassment, you do not have to complain and give your employer the chance to address the situation first. Instead, you can immediately take action to seek damages for harassment.
Learn How an Orange County Workplace Harassment Attorney Can Help
Did you experience sexual harassment or another type of workplace harassment? Are you uncertain whether you were a victim or whether conduct rises to the level of harassment? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should discuss the situation with an Orange County workplace harassment lawyer. Do not wait to protect your rights as an employee and your career. Contact our office today for a case evaluation.
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