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Five surprising facts about sexual harassment at work

We all know that sexual harassment at work is not acceptable. However, many people have only a fuzzy notion of how the law defines harassment, who is affected and how it plays out on a day-to-day basis.

Following are five facts that you may not know about sexual harassment in California:

1. It can be very generic. Most people think of sexual harassment as a male boss touching a female employee inappropriately. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) points out that harassment can consist of offensive comments made against an entire gender.

If a supervisor constantly makes disparaging comments like, "Women only have half the brains that men do" or "Men are too clumsy to succeed in this job," it may constitute harassment, even if the comments are not directed toward any one person in particular.

2. It doesn't have to be physical or even verbal. While inappropriate touching and verbal comments are certainly common forms of sexual harassment, it's not limited to those methods of communication. Harassment can also take the form of graffiti, explicit screensavers on a coworker's computer, lewd posters and other visuals.

3. The harasser doesn't have to work for the company. In most cases, supervisors or coworkers are the offenders. However, sexual harassment can include offensive conduct by a customer, client, vendor or other party.

4. The victim can be a third party. Let's say Robin consistently harasses Kelly, and Kelly doesn't complain about it. However, having to witness this harassment every day is making it very difficult for Payton to work. In this case, Payton may have a valid claim, even though Kelly is the actual recipient of the harassment.

5. Not every comment is illegal. Isolated incidents, random teasing or offhand statements may not constitute illegal harassment if they are not very serious in nature and don't create a hostile work environment.

Because every case is different and involves a unique set of facts, it's wise to consult a lawyer skilled in employment law if you have any questions or concerns.

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