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How is sexual harassment legally defined?

Most everyone is aware that sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace. However, many may not be aware of what the legal definition of sexual harassment actually is. Sexual harassment, according to the Fair Employment and Housing Act, is defined as "harassment based on sex or of a sexual nature; gender harassment; and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition."

There are many behaviors that would constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. These include:

-- Offering benefits of employment for sexual favors.

-- Using or making derogatory comments, jokes, slurs or epithets.

-- Unwanted sexual advances.

-- Threats of retaliation or actual retaliation.

-- Making sexual gestures, leering or displaying objects, cartoons, pictures or posters that are sexually suggestive.

-- Sexual comments including words that are sexually degrading, graphic comments about someone's body, obscene or suggestive notes, letters or invitations.

-- Physically assaulting or touching someone. This includes blocking someone's movements.

According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, employees who think they have been sexually harassed can lodge a complaint with the DFEH. The complaint must be filed within one year of when the harassment took place.

The DFEH works to try to assist the parties involved in resolving sexual harassment disputes. However, a complaint does not have to be filed in order for an employee to pursue compensation through the civil court system.

Employees who believe they have been victims of such harassment can benefit from the advice of a California employment rights attorney to learn more about filing a claim in civil court.

Source: California Department of Fair Employment & Housing, "Sexual Harassment -- The Facts About Sexual Harassment" Aug. 23, 2014

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