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What is employer liability in a sexual harassment claim?

Under California law, sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. This can include unwanted sexual advances, offensive sexual comments, the sharing of material that is deemed offensive and much more. However, while most will be aware of the illegality of these acts, they might not be fully cognizant of how employers are and are not liable if there is sexual harassment occurring. Having a basic knowledge of this can help when considering legal action because of sexual harassment.

Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), all employers are generally liable if there is harassment by their agents or supervisors. It is irrelevant how many employees the business has. If there is harassment by supervisors and non-supervisors, that individual might be personally responsible for the harassment if they committed it or for aiding and abetting it if they did not but someone else did. Employers must take reasonable steps to stop the harassment. Damages may be awarded even if there was no denial of an employment opportunity or loss of pay and benefits. In addition, an employer who knows or should have known that a non-employee was committing sexual harassment can be found liable for that as well.

It is also possible for the employer to avoid being held liable. This can happen if: the alleged harasser is not in a position of authority, for example a supervisor or manager; the employer was not aware that the harassment was happening; there was a program in place to prevent harassment; and once the employer became aware of the harassment, he or she took immediate and required steps to put a stop to it.

Those who are dealing with harassment at work might have a baseline understanding of the laws regarding sexual harassment and how it can be dealt with, but they might not be fully certain of who is deemed liable. When making a sexual harassment claim, the first step that the victim must take is to speak to a legal professional to determine exactly who is responsible and how to pursue a legal claim.

Source: dfeh.ca.gov, “Sexual Harassment — The Facts About Sexual Harassment — Employer Liability,” accessed on June 21, 2016


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