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Same-Sex Sexual Harassment

When people think of "sexual harassment," they typically imagine a male harassing a female. However, sexual harassment does not discriminate. Men can be sexually harassed as well, and same-sex harassment does occur. The key to understanding sexual harassment is having a good concept of the definition, according to California law.

What is sexual harassment?

According to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California, sexual harassment is no longer defined strictly by sexual conduct. The harassment does not need to be inherently sexual in nature, it only has to be harassment "because of sex." This means that, in addition to unwarranted sexual advances and comments being considered sexual harassment, so are comments meant to demean someone because of their sex.

What is same-sex harassment?

Because of this specific distinction of harassment initiated "because of sex," the lines between sexual harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation can get a little blurred. If you are not offered a job or are fired strictly because of your sexual orientation, that is discrimination and is protected under a different law. If you are being bullied and insulted because of your sexual orientation, that is also a different form of discrimination.

However, if you receive comments from another employee or your supervisor that are specifically demeaning based on your sex, even if the person is of the same sex as you, that is sexual harassment. This can include comments demeaning a man by calling him a "sissy" or other derogatory terms. This also encompasses any comments related to women based on their sex.

In addition to the blurry lines between sexual orientation discrimination and sexual harassment, there are the obvious same-sex interactions that are considered sexual harassment. If you receive unwanted touching, kissing or other sexual advances from the same sex, these are definitely still considered sexual harassment. It is illegal for your employer to offer you any benefit or threaten your job over a sexual advance, regardless of whether they are the same sex or different sex than you. It is also illegal for your employer or another employee to make unwanted sexual comments or advances which result in a hostile work environment, regardless of their sex.

What should you do about sexual harassment?

Many times, especially in the case of same-sex sexual harassment, the victim may be unsure or unwilling to report the incident, either out of fear or embarrassment. You should always, always report any instance that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Same-sex sexual harassment is still covered in your rights as an employee, and you have a right to file a lawsuit, should that be necessary, against a member of the same sex if you feel they have sexually harassed you. You should always say no explicitly to the person who is harassing you, write down everything you can remember about the incident, and report it to a superior immediately.

Sexual harassment should always be taken seriously, and you should never feel embarrassed by what happened. Though it's more uncommon that the harassment was same-sex related, it does happen, and you should be aware that you still have rights as an employee. Take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that you are working in a safe work environment.

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