With great advances in digital technology, come great opportunities for nasty surprises. These days, a swipe of a finger is all that’s necessary to open an unsolicited inappropriate message on our phones and other digital devices. Such texts or direct messages can range from the mildly offensive to the outright vulgar. And when the inappropriate message comes from a coworker, or worse yet, a boss, it can affect one’s work life in significant ways.
This article briefly details some of California’s laws regarding sexual harassment as well as some of the steps a worker might take to protect themselves if they are the recipient of harassing texts. Below is a section on how you should preserve the text messages so your legal team can use them if you have to go to court.
As always, if you believe your employer has broken the law, contact our office so that we can evaluate your case and help you decide if you should pursue legal action.
The Basics of California’s Sexual Harassment Law
We’ve written extensively on CA’s sexual harassment law. We’ve also made several YouTube videos on it. If you want to learn the basics, I recommend that you check out our sexual harassment page.
For the purposes of this article, lets look at a simple explanation provided by the Government Code. Section 12923 states that inappropriate workplace behavior rises to the level of harassment when the conduct:
“Sufficiently intrudes upon the victim’s ability to perform the job as usual, or otherwise interfere(s) with and undermine(s) the victim’s personal sense of well-being.”CA Government Code § 12923
An employee who receives unwanted and inappropriate text messages from a boss or coworker clearly will intrude upon the victims ability to perform the job. He or she might justifiably experience difficulty concentrating on tasks, or might not feel free to move about the office without intimidation.
Employers Have a Legal Responsibility to Prevent Harassment
The Government Code provides a strongly worded mandate for employers when it comes to their responsibility to protect employees. It states that it is unlawful for an employer
“to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.”CA Government Code §12940(k)
There are different situations and ways in which workplace harassment can occur —these differences can result in different levels of liability for the company depending on who’s sending the inappropriate material, and what is done by the company to stop it.
Texts from a Coworker vs. Texts from a Boss
Inappropriate texts come in any number of forms. They can include:
- Vulgar jokes or sexually explicit images
- Photos of the senders’ (or another person’s) genitals
- Requests for pictures of the recipient’s private parts
- Requests for sexual favors in return for career advancement (quid pro quo)
- Unwanted flirting or teasing
- Sexually threatening messages
As mentioned earlier, a company has a legal obligation to deal with any employee who might be sending inappropriate texts. If you receive a text or direct message from a coworker that makes you uncomfortable or is sexually explicit, report the issue to your HR director. If you report the issue, and the company fails to deal with the offending worker and stop the harassment, the company could be liable for damages.
But what about when the boss sends inappropriate messages?
Such a situation represents unique challenges because of the power the boss holds in the workplace. Naturally, a victim might be hesitant to report the behavior due to fears of retaliation.
When a boss harasses an employee with lurid or inappropriate texts, this behavior exposes the company to liability much quicker than a lower level employee.
Understandably, a worker who finds herself or himself in such a position should talk to an attorney to discuss the best way to proceed.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself
Make sure to save any inappropriate text or direct messages sent by the harasser – Don’t delete anything—even the texts you might have sent in response. Our office has fielded countless calls from potential clients who likely have been harassed, but who have failed to preserve the evidence of their harassment. This often makes it far more difficult to proceed with their claim.
Furthermore, some clients will attempt to conceal or delete text messages they have sent in response to their harassers. This is always a bad move, and can cause problems down the road once the case has started. Always be up front with your attorney.
Screenshot any inappropriate images sent to your phone or computer – This is important because it preserves dates and times. A solid timeline can be valuable when your attorney is deposing or cross examining a witness.
Report the Issue to HR – Whether you’re dealing with a boss or a coworker, it’s important that you report the issue to your HR director (assuming your employer has an HR department) so that the company is aware of the issue and investigates.
Contact a lawyer – Sometimes, the only way to get justice when dealing with bad actors is to hire an employment attorney to help you stand up for your rights. Our office performs free consultations for harassed employees.
Has a Boss or Coworker Sent You Inappropriate Text Messages? Contact Our Office
Our office has handled a wide variety of sexual harassment cases as well as other employee rights issues (discrimination, whistleblower, overtime, etc.). If you feel you’ve experienced harassment either from a coworker, or someone in a position of authority over you, contact our office to schedule an appointment.
Our firm often handles these types of cases on a contingency basis, which means the client doesn’t pay any out of pocket expenses. Contact the firm of Branigan Robertson to find out how we can help.