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California updates definition of sexual harassment

In 2011 a California man sued his former employer, a building supply company, alleging that his co-workers constantly harassed him about what they believed to be his sexual preference. The man's employer reportedly retaliated against him after he complained to supervisors.

He lost his sexual harassment lawsuit, however, because a court decided that the co-workers were not sexually harassing him since they didn't have any sexual desire toward him. A new bill recently passed by California lawmakers is meant to help stop this kind of injustice from happening again.

Prior to the update, sexual harassment under California law had to involve the alleged harasser's sexual desire. But now the harassment alone can be grounds for a civil claim. In other words, graphic comments or insults about a person's sexuality can legally be categorized as sexual harassment in the workplace.

Other situations that shouldn't be tolerated in the workplace include the following:

  • An employer retaliates against an employee when a sexual relationship between the parties ends.
  • An employer or supervisor demands sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or under threat of a demotion. (Such demands are known as "quid pro quo" demands.)
  • An employee is subject to unwanted sexual advances by co-workers or an employer.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be subtle, and such harassment can be fiercely blunt. In either case, victims of workplace harassment should be aware of the full range of legal tools available to stop the harassment and hold employers and co-workers accountable.

Source: The Press-Enterprise, "WORKPLACE: California clarifies sexual harassment law," Jack Katzanek, Oct. 29, 2013

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