Sexual harassment is in the news every day. Unfortunately for many workers in the San Francisco area, it is something they face on the job.

The law protects you. You do not have to tolerate behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened. Your employer must act on your behalf to shield you from harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Light teasing and offhand comments are not always harassment. Sexual harassment is frequent, severe and creates a hostile work environment. Or it occurs when the behavior has an impact on your employment, such as a termination or a demotion.

Some forms of sexual harassment are obvious. A few include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors (often in exchange for special treatment)
  • Gestures
  • Displaying suggestive objects or pictures
  • Derogatory comments
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical contact

Other forms of sexual harassment can be indirect. Harassing you by making negative comments about your sex in general is illegal.

What are your employer’s obligations?

An employer is liable for the conduct of your supervisor in a harassment case. This covers your termination, demotion, failure to promote or hire, or loss of wages. An employer can defend itself, saying the company tried to address the situation. An employer may also claim you failed to follow through on corrective opportunities.

Harassment also covers inappropriate behavior by co-workers, independent contractors and customers. An employer is responsible if it was aware of the situation and did not take action.

What are your options?

Victims of alleged sexual harassment need to take action. Review your employer’s policies. Take detailed notes on incidents – time, places and witnesses. You can speak to either the person who is harassing you, a supervisor or someone in human resources. Explain what happened. Explain your discomfort.

The company may not respond to your satisfaction. You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Important: In most cases, you must file within 180 days.

You can file a lawsuit. You have the right to work in a harassment-free environment. Protect your rights.