When do rumors in the workplace rise to the level of sexual harassment? When an employee receives a promotion, the water cooler talk may turn to the fact that she received the position due to a sexual relationship with her boss. In other cases, a worker may not conform to generally accepted gender standards, creating rumors and gossip within the workplace.
While it is impossible to stop employees from gossiping and voicing their opinions to each other, when the workplace rumor mill rises to the level of harming another worker either emotionally or professionally, it may be sexual harassment and illegal under the law.
The federal and state government have established laws that protect workers from hostile work environments based on any type of sexual discrimination, which would include gender-based rumors, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes sexual harassment in the workplace as a form of a hostile work environment. Talking about the mannerisms of someone not conforming to gender stereotypes, harassing someone based on their sexual preference, or spreading rumors regarding someone “sleeping their way to the top” is considered sexual harassment and a hostile work environment according to the State of California.
Any type of gender-based rumors that directly impact the working environment, or specifically harm an individual either emotionally or professionally, are considered illegal under the law.
Employers have a legal responsibility under both federal and state law in the State of California to ensure that their workers are protected from a hostile work environment based on sexual discrimination involving gender-based rumors. Employers should attempt to enforce a “no gossip” policy that includes specific examples for workers to clearly understand what is considered unacceptable in the workplace. Also, consequences for these gender-based rumors or sexual discrimination should also be clearly explained with a strong statement of how these types of discussions will not be tolerated in the workplace.
An employer should make sure that they provide every opportunity to a worker who feels discriminated against to file a complaint directly with their manager regarding any abuses in the workplace that would lead to a hostile work environment. Additionally, the employee handbook should include information regarding how an employee can also file a complaint directly with the EEOC if they should desire to do so.
If you feel that you were the victim of sexual harassment or a hostile work environment due to gender-based rumors, you have legal rights under both federal and state law. Building a strong sexual harassment case can be legally complex, and in some cases, there are strict statutes of limitations (deadlines) to bring your claim.
Contact one of our experienced sexual harassment attorneys to help you build your gender-based rumors sexual harassment case, and ensure that you receive the justice you deserve.