As I sat down at my desk on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 a co-worker said "cleavage" to me as he was existing the shop door near my desk. First and Foremost I am a 49 year old Mother of two amazing sons 13 & 16. I do NOT nor would I ever dress inappropriately EVER. I'm not sure if he thought he was entitled to say something like that as he is the owners step-son AND I am a new employee, started employment on July 2, 2018, regardless I NOW know it was unacceptable. After visiting my family out of town this weekend who knew something was wrong immediately. With their help and advice I reported it to the owner upon arriving at work on this past Monday. I informed him of the incident, requested it in writing as the officer manager was present and also heard the comment and asked him if I could have a couple days off to think about it all of which he granted and was apologetic. On that Wednesday, I was so upset and shocked It brought me to tears that day, the officer manager asked what was wrong and did I want to go home, I said "no" just give me a minute. I ended up leaving work 10 minutes later. The owner did comment "now he knew why I was so upset that day"
A single mention of the word cleavage is likely not going to be sufficient to create an actionable claim for workplace sexual harassment. To have such a claim you need to prove you were subjected to unwelcomed comments or conduct of a sexual nature that are so severe or pervasive so as to fundamentally change the workplace and render it hostile to you as a woman. While the comment was likely offensive and inappropriate, the one comment is likely not severe enough on its own to be actionable, and one comment does not create pervasiveness.
It is a comment that is reportable to the employer, and the employer has an affirmative legal duty to protect you from further sexual harassment. Additionally, it would be unlawful if the employer or the step-son were to retaliate against you for reporting the conduct.
If you face more harassment, or any kind of retaliation, it would be appropriate to locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site in the Find a Lawyer section, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Most employment attorneys who practice this area of law work offer a free or low cost consultation in the beginning and then, if the matter has merit and value, will usually agree to work on a contingency basis, meaning you can hire an attorney without paying any money until the matter results in a positive outcome for you. Many advance all the costs of the litigation as well. Do not let fear of fees and costs keep you from finding a good attorney.
Good luck to you.
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You have already reported it to the employer, who has taken action to give you a few days off, take your complaint seriously, and apologize. This is not a normal reaction to someone merely saying the word, "cleavage" to you one time. Harassment or hostile work environment requires severe and pervasive behavior, in this case sexual harassment. That conduct can not be errant or limited comments here and there and must be objectively and subjectively offensive. The word "cleavage" might not fit the definition of "objectively offensive," although clearly, it is subjectively offensive to you. The reaction to require a few days off and the leave early because a coworker said the word cleavage is fairly unusual. The employer needs to take a complaint of sexual harassment seriously and take efforts to stop it. If he continues to do make sexual comments towards you or about your body, you should speak again to HR and possibly an attorney. Additionally, if you are suffering emotional distress, speak with a medical professional. If you do have a case (in the future), you would need to prove emotional distress caused by sexual harassment. Secondly, and more importantly, you want to be able to recover from this comment and continue working. Sorry to hear about this situation, report all sexual harassment to HR (preferably in writing), and hire an attorney if this persists.
All information is provided as general legal information; no attorney-client relationship exists.
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