In California, employers are subject to the harassment regulations in the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under these provisions, employees are protected from harassing conduct based on sex, gender or pregnancy, regardless of whether the conduct was based on sexual desire.
Sexual harassment allegations can be based on either quid pro quo or hostile work environment. Sexual harassment examples include making unwanted advances, requiring sexual favors pursuant to employment or making threats for denying such favors, verbal abuse and touching, among others. Essentially, if an employee is required to submit to a sexual request as a condition of their employment, or if they are subjected in the workplace to conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable person would find offensive, they may pursue legal action against the perpetrator and their employer under certain circumstances. Employers have an obligation to take necessary steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring.
If an employer fails to take the necessary precautions or fails to take corrective action to remedy an incident of harassment, they may be liable for damages to any victims of sexual harassment that they employ. The preventive measures required of California employers include preventing harassment where possible and correcting harassment incidents as required, implementing a sexual harassment policy with an associated complaint procedure, posting and distributing legal regulations and providing interactive training if applicable.
Employees that have been subjected to sexual harassment may pursue a legal claim with the assistance of an employment law attorney. In addition to the harassing co-worker or supervisor, if their employer failed to meet any of their obligations, the employee may seek compensation from the employer as well.
Source: SHRM, "What are an employer's obligations under California law with regard to sexual harassment prevention?," Nov. 9, 2015