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Can an employee be fired for reporting sexual harassment?

by | Oct 5, 2021 | Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination |

Standing up against sexual harassment in the workplace is a protected activity. It’s your right to expect that your workplace is free of sexual harassment, and your employer isn’t legally allowed to retaliate against you for reporting it.

Under federal and California state laws, it is illegal for an employer to fire one of their employees because they reported workplace sexual harassment. Even if the unwelcome behavior does not constitute “sexual harassment,” it does not give the employer the right to fire you.

California law prohibits employers⁠ and employees⁠ from sexually harassing any worker, employee, applicant, volunteer, independent contractor, or unpaid intern.⁠

There are two types of sexual harassment: hostile work environment sexual harassment and Quid pro quo sexual harassment.⁠ These two categories are not legally definitive, especially because many situations involve both types of sexual harassment.⁠

A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

Quid pro quo harassment generally results in a tangible employment decision based upon the employee’s acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, but it can also result from unwelcome conduct that is of a religious nature. This kind of harassment is generally committed by someone who can effectively make or recommend formal employment decisions (such as termination, demotion, or denial of promotion) that will affect the victim.

Even though most employers follow the law, employees are often worried about the consequences of pursuing a claim against their employer. Fortunately, employers are prohibited from wrongfully terminating or taking adverse employment actions against their employees simply because they opposed the employer’s violations of the law.⁠

Similarly, an employee who has suffered a violation of California’s sexual harassment laws has a right to file a complaint, testify, or assist in any proceeding in a claim against their employer. The employer may not retaliate against them for doing so.⁠

If you have been fired for reporting sexual harassment, contact an experienced employment law attorney immediately.