Between the outpouring of allegations against some of the most famous men in our country and the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment in the workplace is finally getting much-needed attention. As a result, sexual harassment victims are being encouraged to step forward and speak out about their experiences. However, many victims of sexual harassment still feel that they may suffer consequences at work for shedding any light on their hostile work environment.
What can happen to you at work if you file a sexual harassment claim? Is your supervisor prohibited from punishing you if you make a complaint? The answers to these questions may be very important if you are thinking about filing a sexual harassment complaint.
Employers Can’t Retaliate
Employers in the California cannot retaliate against employees who file sexual harassment complaints. When a complaint is filed, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate, harass, and/or retaliate against an employee. What exactly does “retaliation” mean? The FEHA says that retaliation means:
- Discharging, expelling, and/or engaging in otherwise discriminatory behavior,
- Because an employee has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in a FEHA matter.
Federal law also prohibits retaliation against employees who file complaints about sexual harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines retaliation to mean any adverse employment action. Since the definition is so broad, retaliation can take many shapes and forms. It is important to understand what retaliatory conduct may look like.
You cannot be fired from your work for filing a sexual harassment claim. This includes actual termination and constructive termination. Actual termination occurs when you are directly fired by your employer. Constructive termination occurs when you resign/quit because your employer makes the workplace an unbearably hostile environment.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated in retaliation for filing a sexual harassment claim you can take legal action. However, you will be required to prove that your termination was, in fact, related to or caused by the filing of your claim. In proving that your termination was retaliatory you will have to provide evidence to support your argument. This evidence may include:
- Positive reviews,
- Timesheet reflecting punctuality and consistency at work, and
- Examples of the quality of your work.
Adverse Employment Action
The terms “otherwise discriminatory behavior” and “adverse employment action” are pretty broad. This allows the anti-discrimination laws to cast a wider net for catching improper behavior and makes it more difficult for employers to find loopholes for their illegal conduct. However, it also makes it difficult for victims of sexual harassment to know exactly what kind of behavior rises to the level of retaliation.
This has been a widely litigated issue. In California, courts have responded by saying that conduct that is “reasonably likely to adversely and materially affect an employee’s job performance or opportunity for advancement” will be considered adverse employment action. Conduct that may be considered adverse employment action include:
- Getting passed over for an overdue and deserved promotion;
- Not receiving a raise;
- Not being invited to participate in work-related groups and programs;
- Receiving poor job evaluations;
- Transfers to a different location or department;
- Altering job functions or responsibilities at work; and
- Changes in work schedules.
Learn More About Retaliation
Are you thinking about filing a sexual harassment complaint against your employer, but are afraid of the consequences? Have you already been the victim of adverse employment action or wrongful termination? Contact the Briski Law Firm today for more information about what your employer can – and cannot – do if you file a sexual harassment complaint. If you believe that you have suffered at work because of your actions we can discuss the legal options that are available to you. Sexual harassment in the workplace and retaliation against those who file complaints are serious issues. Victims of sexual harassment should not be afraid to speak out. We can help you hold your employer accountable for their actions. Call us today for more information.