Common Mistake #6 – Not Knowing What Constitutes Actionable Sexual Harassment or Discrimination

   It is important for victims to know their rights. Using tools such as literature on sexual harassment and the advice of an attorney to understand what conduct constitutes sexual harassment is a powerful step in confirming a victim’s rights and can build confidence and assist in moving forward with the next steps in stopping the harassment and filing a lawsuit if the victim has a viable claim.

   Employees that are treated poorly in the workplace sometimes wish to sue their employer for harassment. However, many people have the misconception that all workplace harassment is actionable and can be the basis for a viable lawsuit. This is not the case. A victim can only sue for harassment in California if the harassment is based on the victim’s protected status, for example the victim’s race, age, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Actionable sexual harassment is limited to unwanted offensive conduct in the workplace, which is based on the employee’s sex.

   Victims are also sometimes surprised to discover that the legal standard for what constitutes actionable sexual harassment is more limited than what types of conduct society generally views as unacceptable workplace behavior. Just because someone acts inappropriately at work, or makes rude sexual comments, does not necessary mean that the recipient of that conduct will have a viable sexual harassment case. Actionable sexual harassment includes quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a term of employment is expressly or implicitly conditioned upon acceptance of an unwelcome sexual advance. Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subject to unwelcome sexual or gender-related conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile or abusive working environment.

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