In California, most employees are at-will employees. This status limits the amount of protections that an employee is entitled to in the workplace. However, federal and state law has set some rules when it comes to acceptable treatment of employees. Employers do not have free reign to treat employees however they like.
In particular, employers cannot subject California employees to sexual harassment in the workplace. Behavior will constitute sexual harassment when it creates a hostile work environment for the employee. Sexual harassment can include unwanted physical contact, jokes, comments, sexually explicit pictures, sexual references or any combination of these things. In other words, behavior does not have to constitute sexual assault in order to be sexual harassment.
While many people may think that sexual harassment is a thing of the past, data has shown that it is still very prevalent in California's workplaces. Last year, over 4,500 sexual harassment complaints were filed with governmental agencies. In particular, start-up technology companies have had an increasing number of complaints.
California employers hoping to avoid issues with sexual harassment can take some simple steps to make sure that workers are protected. One, they can make sure to quickly respond to any complaints of sexual harassment in a genuine and fair way. Two, they can create a sexual harassment policy so that all employees understand appropriate workplace conduct. Finally, employers can train managers and supervisors on how to empathetically respond to complaints about sexual harassment.
When employers do not follow these steps, and issue arise, employees should make sure to understand their legal rights. Compensation -- including damages for harassment -- may be available for employees who have been sexually harassed.
Source: VentureBeat, "Here's how your startup can avoid sexual harassment claims, in 3 easy steps," Matt Jedreski and Mike Etchepare, May 17, 2014