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Defining sexual harassment still difficult

While sexual harassment in California workplaces is often less overt than it was in decades past, it is still prevalent, according to professional women and worker advocates. In fact, social media media sites like Twitter have made it easier for women to openly discuss their experiences with sexual harassment, and the public dialogue is shedding light on the issue.

In 1986, the Supreme Court first recognized the existence of sexual harassment, saying that it was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, it has been a struggle to define exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. For instance, consistent comments about someone's clothing or dating status, known as microaggressions, are not illegal. However, they can quickly escalate into harassment like sexually explicit comments and unwanted touching, so they put women on high alert.

There is also a pervasive belief in the courts that women should just put up with a certain level of verbal harassment in male-dominated industries. This "boys will be boys" attitude subscribes to the idea that women can't expect the culture of male-heavy workplaces, such as construction sites or financial firms, to change, so they should just feel happy to have a job and accept locker-room talk as the price of doing business. There is an ongoing debate whether it is possible for sexual harassment laws to stop such banter or if public policy is a more appropriate avenue to seek change.

Workers of either gender who believe that sexual harassment has created a hostile working environment for them may want to meet with an attorney to explore their options. If company management is made aware of the situation but fails to take corrective measures, one course may be the filing of a claim with the EEOC.

Source: NPR, "We've Begun To Draw The Line, But It's Tough To Define Sexual Harassment," Feb. 7, 2016

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