California employees are protected by both federal and state law from unwelcome conduct that is of a sexual nature and creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Offending conduct can be direct or subtle, and may be present through verbal, visual or physical actions.
There are two distinct forms of sexual harassment in the workplace: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is a form of sexual harassment in which a person in a position of authority subjects an employee to sexual harassment as a condition to receiving a promotion or raise, or to even keep their job. Such harassment only requires one incident to provide ground for a legal claim, while a hostile work environment harassment claim is treated differently.
Many employees may want to know then, what actions meet the requirements of a successful sexual harassment claim based on the creation of a hostile work environment? Such a claim necessitates a pattern of behavior by the perpetrator in which another employee is subjected to unwanted behavior that is sexual in nature, or pervasive to the point where the work environment becomes abusive for the employee.
To establish that such an environment is present, courts will apply various elements to the circumstances of the case. Among these elements are the authoritative status of the perpetrator, the offensiveness and frequency of the conduct, and the type of conduct in question, among others. The victim must show that they were offended by the conduct, and that a reasonable person would have felt the same in their situation. Regardless of the form of sexual harassment taking place, employees should immediately assert their rights and protect themselves from such conduct.
Source: Findlaw, "Sexual Harassment at Work," accessed on June 28, 2015