I am very scared, tired of this happening. What can I do regarding sexual harassment from a co-worker?

Asked 12 months ago - San Diego, CA

Two weeks ago, my co-worker sexually harassed me physically. I reported it to my boss and he took care of it and made it where I wouldn't have to work with the co-worker as he is the only one of two cooks he has. Today, I went in for work and the co-worker was there. My boss sometimes forgets what days I work so I believe he forgot I was coming in. My co-worker continued to harass me and my boss is not here today. What can I do? Can I call the cops? I don't want my boss to get in trouble as he did took care of the situation but I need something to happen to the co-worker as I have had enough and I need this job to take care of my daughter.

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Christine C McCall

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    3

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Unless the harassment you are complaining about puts you in jeopardy of physical harm, then this is not an matter for the cops. If there is a physical assault, such as sexual touching without consent, of course you can call police. But police will not act on verbal comments or other non-physical conduct.

    Because your boss did the right thing based on your initial reports, it may be that he will be so troubled by this new and repeated offense that he will take the appropriate definitive and conclusive action of terminating this employee. You can state to your boss that you believe that is the solution given that the unlawful conduct did not cease after the mercy of the boss' reaction in response to your previous complaint.

    If your boss refuses to terminate this employee, then you should talk with a local employment attorney. For some reason, the syntax or description in your post raises some concern about the size of your employer's workforce, so talk with a local attorney about your legal protections before this situation goes much further.

    No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended... more
  2. Neil Pedersen

    Contributor Level 20

    2

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . As long as there are at least five employees, your boss has an affirmative statutory duty to protect you from the harassment. That means keeping you and the perpetrator separated, or disciplining or even terminating the harasser to stop the harassment. A failure to do so is a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

    You can make a claim against and sue the individual harasser. That might stop him.

    The bottom line is the employer as the duty to stop this. If the employer is not willing to stop it, and you are unwilling to put pressure on the employer to carry out its burden, you will continue to experience the harassment.

    Good luck to you.

    This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed... more
  3. Marilynn Mika Spencer

    Contributor Level 20

    1

    Lawyer agrees

    1

    Answered . I agree with Mr. Pedersen and Ms. McCall regarding your overall situation. I understand your question to be asking for guidance on what to do today, as you are assigned to work with the harasser. Know that there is no guarantee that anything you do will get him to stop, but you should make the effort because it might be successful. I recognize it might be frightening to stand up to someone like this.

    The rest of what I have to say assumes your employer has at least five employees, which is the minimum number required for your employer to have to comply with the sexual harassment laws. Unlawful harassment is a form of discrimination. To be unlawful, the harassment must be must be based on a protected category, such as race, sex, religion, disability, age (40 and over), pregnancy, or genetic information.

    Harassment can include verbal conduct, slurs, derogatory comments, comments or questions about a person's body, appearance, religious, or sexual activity, or indication of stereotyping. Harassment can also include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive eye contact or looks, mimicking the employee in an insulting way, and derogatory or graphic posters, cartoons or drawings.

    Harassment is unlawful when the conduct is either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive environment. Severe conduct would include most physical contact and many types of threatening, vulgar or degrading conduct. Pervasive conduct is widespread, happens frequently and/or in many situations. One offensive statement is not pervasive, but the same comment made over and over again may be pervasive.

    If the harassment fits with the description above, know that the harasser is breaking the law. Know that he has no right to treat you this way.

    Know that you have not done anything to justify what he is doing. Sometimes sexual harassers pick their victims because they believe the victim is going to crumble and not stand up to them, and that is what they are after. They want to show how powerful they are. They rely on their victim's embarrassment and their victim's willingness to keep the situation private. All of this works in favor of the harasser, not you.

    So with this in mind, gather all the strength you can and tell him, loudly so everyone else can hear "Stop it right now. Do not talk to me, do not touch me, do not tease me. I have documented what you have done. I have reported you for what you've done in the past and I will report you for what you do now and in the future. I will report you to the government agency that enforces sexual harassment laws. If I have to take legal action, I will. Do not mess with me."

    Report his action to whomever is acting manager. Tell the manager you have already reported this to your boss who took steps to separate you from the harasser. If the manager will not take action, ask him or her to call your boss.

    Go into the other room and write down what happens. Keep this log for today and every other day. Keep the log at home, not at work, so it won't be stolen or lost.

    If the harasser is after you today and it is intolerable, and if no one in management will resolve the situation, you should consider leaving. Yes, you might get in trouble or even lose your job if you leave. But you also have a good chance of pursuing a legal claim against your employer for failing to stop the harassment – which it is legally required to do. This won't help you in the immediate because you will be out of work, but an attorney may be able to resolve that for you by interacting with the employer.

    To find a plaintiffs employment attorney in California, please go to the web site of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA). CELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the state for attorneys who represent working people. The web site is www.cela.org. Click on "Find a CELA Member" and you can search by location and practice area. Many CELA attorneys represent clients throughout the state.

    I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.

    @MikaSpencer * * * twitter.com/MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes... more

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