Hearing Inappropriate Comments At Work?

There’s almost nothing more shocking than hearing inappropriate sexual comments from a co-worker or your manager. Perhaps you ignore it the first or second time, but the person persists despite your obvious discomfort or your complaints.

It can become difficult to concentrate on your job or even want to come to work when you are experiencing sexual harassment. You may be tempted to quit, or you may have quit already. By this point, you know you may need an attorney.

California Employment Counsel, APC, is a firm focusing solely on employment law, and our sexual harassment lawyers can help you take the necessary steps to move forward.

Identifying What Is Not All Right To Hear At Work

Like many forms of sexual harassment, it can be difficult to articulate when a comment is inappropriate. Others, including the person making the comment, may say you are being too sensitive or that it is just a joke. However, you have the right to not hear these things at work, things like:

  • A proposition for sex. While romantic relationships are allowed to unfold between employees in many places of employment, they must abide by company policy and remain fully consensual. If a coworker, supervisor, or other employee propositions a coworker or subordinate employee for sex and the employee refuses, they may not persist in their pursuits and must drop the subject immediately. Otherwise, they are guilty of sexual harassment. Cases involving supervisory employees making sexual passes at the employees who report to them tend to be more complex and involve more significant penalties for offenders.
  • An offer for a promotion, raise or preferential treatment in exchange for sex. These “quid pro quo” sexual arrangements are illegal under state and federal law. An employer may not show preferential treatment of any kind toward an employee in exchange for sexual favors. A quid pro quo offer alone constitutes sexual harassment. If an employer threatens adverse action or other harm against an employee if the employee refuses sexual activity, the employer could face severe criminal charges in addition to liability for sexual harassment.
  • Unwelcome statements about your body or appearance. Every American has the right to work free from ridicule and suggestive comments about their appearance. If an employee starts to receive unwelcome comments, they may try and defuse the situation internally by asking the offender to stop. Once an offender is asked to stop this type of behavior but refuses to do so, they commit sexual harassment.
  • Talk about your or their sex life or sexual interests. It’s natural for coworkers to get to know each other on personal levels, but an employee or supervisor can share too many personal details. If a coworker or supervisor continuously makes sexual comments, asks about your sex life, or tells detailed stories about their own, it is a form of harassment.  Ask them to stop this type of talk and tell them it makes you uncomfortable. If they persist, it’s best to speak to an attorney about your options for filing a sexual harassment claim.
  • Intimidating statements. Sexual harassment takes many forms. Unfortunately, it can involve the risk of physical harm to the victim. When an employer makes intimidating statements to coerce an employee into sexual activity or to harass the employee on the basis of sex, this creates a hostile and unwelcome work environment for the employee. It’s essential to report this type of behavior immediately and consult an attorney about your potential legal options if you have experienced threatening sexual harassment.

These kind of comments, whether they come in person or via text message or other electronic medium, are inappropriate for anyone, whether it is your boss, manager, supervisor, colleague, contractor or vendor.

In some cases, it’s possible to settle matters of sexual harassment internally by following your employer’s company policies. This may be enough to put an end to the harassment you’ve been facing and ensure disciplinary action for the person responsible for harassing you. However, internal conflict resolution options are typically limited in scope and skewed in favor of the employer. This route may not be feasible if your harasser is a manager, supervisor, or executive within your organization. If this is the case, and you cannot rely on internal company policies to correct the behavior you’ve been experiencing, it’s a good idea to speak with an experienced Orange County employment law attorney as soon as possible.

How to Take Legal Action for Sexual Harassment at Work

If internal company policies are fruitless or unavailable to you, and if your harasser has ignored your previous requests for them to stop their unwelcome behavior, it’s time to seek legal counsel for your sexual harassment matter. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of the United States has a professional obligation to fully investigate claims of sexual harassment in American workplaces. Your Orange County employment law attorney can help you draft your initial paperwork for your EEOC claim and guide you through the claim process.

The EEOC will review your claim once you submit it and provide necessary supporting documentation. If the EEOC review process concludes that sexual harassment likely took place in your case, they will issue a Notice of Right to Sue. This document indicates your case meets the eligibility requirements for legal action set forth by the EEOC, and you may proceed with your lawsuit.

An experienced attorney will help you build a civil claim against your employer or against the individuals in your workplace responsible for the harassment you faced. It’s not uncommon for an employee who has suffered sexual harassment at work to take legal action against the actual perpetrator of their harassment in addition to the organization itself for allowing the harassment to take place or failing to address it properly according to the company’s own internal policies.

Potential Damages from a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

It’s possible that the inappropriate comments you kept hearing at work prevented you from performing your job duties correctly or diminished your professional relationships with clients and vendors. It is also possible you were fired in retaliation for not agreeing to sexual activity with a supervisor, or a hostile work environment developed in your department after internally reporting sexual harassment. In any of these situations or other instances of sexual harassment, it’s easy to see how the victim can sustain various damages from the harassing behaviors of others.

Damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit typically revolve around professional losses, such as lost income after a wrongful termination or lost pay increases and additional benefits due to unjust negative performance reviews. In the event the sexual harassment broke the threshold of physical contact, the plaintiff could claim medical expenses for physical medical treatment and mental health counseling they required after the incident in question. The perpetrator, in such a case, would likely face sexual battery charges from the state in addition to civil action from the victim and professional discipline from their employer.

Employees who have lost their jobs or have been denied career advancements due to sexual harassment can potentially achieve reinstatement, overdue promotion, and additional compensation for their lost wages and benefits. Additionally, it is also possible to secure compensation for the physical and emotional pain of experiencing sexual harassment. Every court calculates pain and suffering damages differently. Your attorney can provide you with a better idea of what to expect in your specific case.

Contact Us To Discuss Your Concerns In Confidence

Sexual harassment can be difficult to discern, especially when it does not involve physical touching. At California Employment Counsel, APC, our sexual harassment attorneys understand the frustration, anxiety and depression that can accompany mistreatment at work.

Our experienced employment lawyers can answer your questions about sexual harassment and inappropriate comments. Contact us online for a free, confidential consultation. You can also call our Costa Mesa office at (714) 462-8376.

We are based in Orange County. We serve clients throughout the state.

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