Many employees (and, unfortunately, too many employers) believe that workplace regulations against harassment apply only in the workplace. They believe that if someone sexually harasses a co-worker at a weekend softball game or if they run into them at the gym or a bar, there are no repercussions.
They might think the same is true if they harass a co-worker when they see them out and about holding hands with someone of the same sex or with their child or spouse of a different race. That’s not the case.
Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employers are obligated to address any issue of employee harassment that’s reported to them regardless of when and where it occurred.
Understanding the concept of a “hostile work environment”
Some employers might say they have no way of controlling what an employee does on their own time – nor should they. That demonstrates not just a lack of understanding of the law but of how professional relationships work.
Harassment by a colleague, manager or even a subordinate outside of work or even a work-related event can result in a hostile work environment for the harassment victim. If a victim of harassment feels uncomfortable or even unsafe around their harasser at work (even if they’re on their best behavior there), they may go out of their way to avoid them. Their work may suffer because of the stress. They may even turn down a coveted project or promotion to avoid being around their harasser.
The harasser, meanwhile, may feel embarrassed or awkward about their behavior and take steps to avoid dealing with their victim. Again, that can cause the victim to miss out on opportunities that could advance their career.
What are an employer’s responsibilities?
Employers can help prevent these situations by ensuring that all employees know that the rules regarding harassment apply no matter where they are. They also need to take any reports of harassment seriously, thoroughly investigate them and take the appropriate action.
If you’ve reported any kind of harassment to your employer and nothing has been done about it or you’ve faced retaliation as a result, it’s a good idea to find out what kind of legal options you have. This can help you protect your rights, your career and your well-being.