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What is the legal definition of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment has been in the news lately since the rise of the #MeToo movement about a year and a half ago. Many people, including men and women, have been the target of sexual harassment. Everyone has heard the awful stories, but what exactly is the legal definition of sexual harassment? This blog post will delve into this question in a little more detail.

According to the federal government, sexual harassment can take the form of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature. Courts have ruled that not every instance of these behaviors is sexual harassment. If the victim’s response to the behavior affects their employment, if the behavior unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work performance or if the behavior creates a hostile or offensive work environment, the federal government says that sexual harassment may exist.

Basically, behavior has to be offensive and unwelcomed by the victim in order to be sexual harassment. The victim may suffer economic injury, termination or another adverse work event. But even if there isn’t one of these negative consequences, sexual harassment may still exist. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, but the harasser can also be a co-worker, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer and even a non-employee.

Sex discrimination is illegal under federal and California law, and sexual harassment is recognized as a form of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment victims may be entitled to relief under federal and California civil rights laws.

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