California employees are offered protection against sexual harassment and other types of workplace harassment and discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act in addition to federal law, but this is not the case in every state. In many states, employees are vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect independent contractors or employees at companies that have fewer than 15 workers.
This means that in many states, domestic workers, such as nannies and housekeepers, and farm workers have no protection. Employees of small businesses are similarly unprotected. The original intention of these restrictions was to protect small employers who might lack the resources to defend themselves against claims. However, work and workplaces have changed significantly since, including defining sexual harassment as a form of discrimination. Furthermore, there is a fast-growing so-called “gig economy” of independent contractors.
However, there is a movement to expand protections. On April 24, women farm workers and domestic workers gathered on Capitol Hill for what was called the Unstoppable Day of Action to raise awareness about these issues.
Many workers may hesitate to report sexual harassment at work because they fear retaliation or they think they will not be believed. California workers who think they are facing sexual harassment in the workplace might want to talk to an attorney about whether the actions constitute sexual harassment, whether they are protected under federal or state law and how to proceed. Many actions may be considered sexual harassment including lewd comments and inappropriate jokes. With an attorney, the person might review the employer’s sexual harassment policies and try to address the issue in the workplace first. However, if the employer does not investigate the allegations or does not other respond appropriately, the employee might want to take legal action.