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How is sexual harassment defined in California?

Let's take a look at how sexual harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the workplace, sexual harassment is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature."

The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission offers a similar definition that also includes gender harassment by a person of the same sex as the victim. Employers and employees can be held liable for sexual harassment, but it's no secret that harassers will try to blur the lines between what is appropriate and inappropriate in order to avoid liability.

For example, the key to the definition of sexual harassment is the word "unwelcome," but harassers will sometimes claim that a victim welcomed sexual behavior. After all, it isn't illegal for a coworker or a boss to ask another employee out for a date, but there is a difference between an innocent inquiry and what is defined as sexual harassment.

There is also the matter of feeling pressured to respond in a positive manner to an employer's unwanted advances. Too many employees are made to feel that their job is at stake if they don't let their bosses make some inappropriate gesture, verbal or otherwise.

In many cases, a victim may not have been harassed by a boss or a manager, but the boss or manager knowingly let another employee sexually harass the victim. When that happens, the manager and the individual harasser can both be held accountable.

San Diego residents who have been sexually harassed in the workplace need to know that the law is on their side.

Source: The Herald, "Dirk Stemerman: Sexual harassment policy," Dirk Stemerman, Dec. 6, 2012

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