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Identifying sexual harassment in the California workplace

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Maybe you've carefully dodged an unwelcome advance from a Los Angeles co-worker, perhaps even a supervisor. Many workers wonder how many times they have to put up with this kind of treatment before it becomes a reportable offense. One episode of sexual harassment can be enough to act, but there are things to consider.

You may hear a derogatory joke while eating at a workplace cafeteria or hear offensive sexual comments in an elevator. It's difficult to decide what to do next, especially if the joke or comment isn't directed toward you. Do you confront the offender, report it to a supervisor or let it pass?

A pattern of verbal, written or physical contact frequently is established. You may see someone leering at you, making obviously sexual comments or gesturing suggestively. The first time may seem like a test or simply a mistake, but sexual harassment often continues until the work environment feels hostile.

Sexual harassment can begin and end with an individual or be part of an overall workplace attitude permitted by an employer. Company officials have a legal obligation to try to prevent and stop these incidents. Information and, in some cases, worker training must be provided that outlines state and federal laws and details the complaint process.

Many employees stay quiet about these issues or fight battles privately, thinking that saying nothing will ensure some kind of job security. So you know: an employer may not take a retaliatory action, like a demotion or firing, against a worker who files an internal or external sexual harassment complaint. That doesn't mean the company won't try to make the worker's life miserable.

A lawyer's advice can be helpful from the time you suspect sexual harassment. Find out if you employment claim is valid and what to do about it by discussing the matter with an attorney, preferably before taking other actions, if possible.

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