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5 FAQs on workplace sexual harassment in California

As a woman working in the tech industry or a related industry in California, you may feel you need all the help you can get to deal with sexual harassment at work.

It is therefore good to know that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently issued a 9-page guidebook for employers to help them comply with applicable laws against sexual harassment. Such guidance is sorely needed, as women repeatedly face pervasive harassment and hostile corporate cultures in industries such as tech, manufacturing and engineering.

In this post, we will consider some common questions about bringing a claim in California for sexual harassment at work.

How is "sexual harassment' defined?

In addition to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, California law defines sexual harassment as encompassing many types of offensive or unwanted behavior. It isn't only obvious things such as leering, making dirty jokes, or unwelcome physical touching. Other behaviors are prohibited as well, including asking for sexual favors in exchange for job benefits and retaliation (or threatened retaliation) for turning down sexual advances.

Are there current lawsuits that exemplify the problem of sexual harassment by California employers?

Absolutely. In one case filed earlier this year, a female engineer for Tesla brought suit against the company alleging "pervasive harassment" of men by women on the factory floor. The alleged harassment included whistling and catcalls, as well as inappropriate language.

The engineer's lawsuit also alleged she experienced discriminatory pay and promotion practices. She also contended that Tesla retaliated against her after she raised whistleblowing concerns about a manufacturing defect.

What training do employers have to provide against sexual harassment?

If an employer has at least 50 workers (employees or independent contractors), all supervisory personnel must get prevention training. The training must be at least two hours, once every two years, and occur within six months of someone becoming a supervisor.

The curriculum for the training must cover not only legal definitions, but practical examples of conduct to be avoided and what should be done if harassment does occur.

Is it possible for employer harassment to occur on social media sites?

As we noted in a post in June, there is a case in the courts now on this issue. The case involves the managing director of a bank who allegedly used LinkedIn to harass a young woman.

How are employers supposed to investigate allegations of sexual harassment?

The guide issued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing includes guidelines on having a prompt, impartial investigation by someone with proper qualifications.

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