October 29, 2018

California is rolling out a series of laws to help alleged victims of sexual harassment in workplaces get justice. The laws, aimed at reducing the number of dismissed sexual harassment claims before trial, will take effect starting January 1, 2019.

Our Los Angeles sexual harassment attorney at JML Law explains that the new laws will impact how courts in California evaluate sexual harassment claims, and change requirements for employers in California to address, prevent, and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

Starting next year, courts in Los Angeles and all across California will have to apply five advisory principles when interpreting the law. The five advisory principles will be included in the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA), and were designed by California lawmakers in the wake of the #MeToo scandals in order to lower burden of proof for victims of sexual harassment.

Although victims of sexual harassment at work will still have to prove that the harassment in the workplace was “severe or pervasive,” the new sexual harassment laws in 2019 will significantly lower standard of proof.

Five advisory principles applied to sexual harassment cases in California

Our experienced sexual harassment attorney in Los Angeles has summarized the five advisory principles applied to sexual harassment cases in California as follows:

  1. The plaintiff (alleged victim of sexual harassment) will no longer have to demonstrate evidence that her or his work performance or productivity was negatively impacted by the alleged act of sexual harassment (it will be enough to prove that the alleged act of sexual harassment would have negatively impacted a reasonable person’s ability to perform her or his duties).
  2. Even a single act or incident of alleged sexual harassment or sexual misconduct will prevent a California court from dismissing the claim as long as the alleged act or incident unreasonably interfered with your work performance or created a hostile work environment.
  3. Even if a sexually harassing remark has no relation to your termination or other adverse action or is not made by your employer, supervisor or any other decision-maker, it may still amount to a hostile work environment.
  4. Almost all workplaces will be held to the same legal standard when it comes to determining sexual harassment (for example, engaging in sexual harassment will be treated equally regardless of the workplace where it occurs, be it a hospital, law firm, tech startup, or a construction site). The only exception to this principle is if witnessing or being a victim of sexual harassment is “integral” to the job (for example, sexualized banter is part of the regular operation in the workplace like filming a movie full of sexualized jokes or remarks).
  5. Last but not least, claims of sexual harassment will rarely be subject to summary dismissal as a judge or jury needs to know all the facts of a particular case as well as hear live testimony before making the final decision as opposed to making a decision based solely on the written statements given by the plaintiff and defendant.

Other than that, employers in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California will no longer be able to discourage employees from filing sexual harassment claims by conditioning a pay raise, bonus, or other employment benefits by requiring an employee to sign a release confirming that he or she has no open sexual harassment or other claims under the FEHA.

After more than a year since the first wave of sexual harassment claims in Hollywood and all across the United States have taken America by the storm, workplaces all across California will have to abide by the new sexual harassment laws in 2019. Although the new laws make it easier to file a claim with the FEHA, it is still highly advised to be legally represented by a Los Angeles sexual harassment attorney at JML Law. Call 818-610-8800 to get a free consultation.