What to do if you are being sexually harassed at work
Sexual harassment is a problem that occurs in workplaces across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Both men and women can be the victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment. If you are being sexually harassed at work, you might wonder what you should do and might be worried about the potential consequences for your job and career. Here are some steps from the discrimination and employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler that you should take if you believe that sexual harassment is happening in your workplace.
1. Determine whether the conduct qualifies as sexual harassment.
Before conduct will be considered to be sexual harassment, it must meet certain criteria. The victim must feel offended by the conduct. In other words, the actions or remarks must be unwelcome.
The conduct must also be such that a reasonable person would be offended by it. You should consider whether an outside observer would consider the remark to be offensive or if an observer would simply consider it to be normal social behavior.
Even if the remark or action is offensive, it still needs to either be serious or pervasive. A single off-putting remark or obscene joke will normally not be enough to support a sexual harassment claim. Instead, the conduct must be pervasive or severe enough to create a hostile work environment that interferes with your ability to perform your job.
Not every offensive comment is legally deemed as sexual harassment. For a behavior to be considered sexual harassment:
- The victim must perceive it as offensive.
- An average person must find it offensive.
- It must either be severe or frequent enough to disrupt the workplace. Learn more about what constitutes as sexual harassment at work.
2. Confront the perpetrator.
If you have determined that sexual harassment is occurring in your workplace, the next step you should take is to confront the perpetrator. However, you might feel intimidated by the harasser or be worried about what might happen to you or your job if you speak up.
However, if you can, you should tell the perpetrator who is engaging in the offensive behavior that he or she needs to stop. This places the person on notice that their comments or actions are offensive and unwelcome and can play a role in a subsequent investigation. You should trust that the human resources department will respond appropriately when you complain about sexual harassment in the workplace.
The #MeToo movement has led to greater awareness of the problems of sexual harassment, making it easier for employees to complain. More companies are aware of the problem and are concerned with preventing it from happening in the workplace. If the perpetrator continues his or her behavior after you have confronted him or her, your next step will be to file a complaint within your company that complies with its complaint procedure.
- Speak directly to the perpetrator.
- Clearly communicate that their behavior is unwelcome.
- Take note of the #MeToo movement’s impact on workplace harassment awareness.
- If the harassment persists, move to your company’s official complaint process.
3. Adhere to the compliant procedure at your company.
Most companies have a process in place for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. Review your employee handbook or talk to human resources to find out what the complaint process is if you are unaware of it. You can also review the internal website of your company to find the sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure.
The complaint procedure will tell you who you should report the conduct within the chain of command. For example, your company’s complaint process might tell you to report the conduct to your supervisor or to the human resources department. If the perpetrator is your supervisor, this can pose a problem if your supervisor is also the person you are supposed to report sexual harassment to. In this situation, complain to the next person up the chain of command.
If your company has a specific procedure in place for reporting sexual harassment, you should follow those steps. Make sure to report the conduct in writing to the department or person listed in the procedure. If you do not feel comfortable reporting to that person, complain about the sexual harassment to a different supervisor or your supervisor’s manager.
Do not wait to complain about what’s happening. Under federal law, you must file a complaint within 180 days of the incident or 300 days if the conduct is covered by state law. If you wait too long to complain about sexual harassment, your company might still act but will not be required to do so.
- Familiarize yourself with your workplace’s harassment reporting framework.
- Use resources like the employee handbook or HR guidelines.
- File your complaint within the time frame mandated by federal laws.
4. Make sure your complaint about sexual harassment is made in writing.
If you report what is happening to your supervisor or the human resources department orally, you should follow up with a formal letter or email. Your letter or email should include a subject line that clearly states that it is a complaint of sexual harassment. This lets your company know that you are complaining about sexual harassment instead of just a rude comment.
Your complaint letter should also include a timeline of the conduct that includes detailed information about what happened, the dates when the incidents occurred, and the names of any coworkers who witnessed them. Listing witnesses, dates, and times can help when your company conducts the investigation.
You should also specify whether the conduct is continuing. This helps your company to know whether the conduct is pervasive and severe or if it was a single incident. While the company might address a single incident, pervasive, severe conduct will require the company to immediately take steps to end what is occurring.
Finally, make sure to include information about the consequences you have suffered because of the conduct. For example, if your manager asked you for sexual favors and told you that your raise was contingent on you agreeing to engage in them with him or her, you should include those details in your complaint.
- Always supplement a verbal complaint with a written report.
- Clearly label your report as “sexual harassment” for clarity.
- Include details such as witnesses, dates, and specific incidents.
- Describe any professional repercussions faced.
- Dive deeper into consequences of sexual harassment.
5. Determine whether you should retain an attorney.
After you file your complaint, you should see how your company handles it. If your company promptly investigates what happened and takes appropriate action to stop the perpetrator’s conduct, retaining an employment attorney will likely be unnecessary. On the other hand, if your company fails to act or retaliates against you for filing a complaint, you should talk to an employment law attorney as soon as possible for help with filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Assess how your company responds to your complaint.
- If your complaint is met with appropriate action, legal counsel might be unnecessary.
- Consult an employment law attorney if you face dismissal or retaliation.
6. Retain an experienced employment law attorney.
If you have taken the above-listed steps to no avail, it is a good idea to talk to an experienced sexual harassment attorney at Swartz Swidler. We can review the evidence of what has occurred and help you to file a complaint with the EEOC. Call us today for a consultation at (856) 685-7420.