If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you are not alone. Despite that fact that sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by both state and federal law, it is still far too common. The employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler advocate for victims of sexual harassment, helping them to recover damages that they rightfully deserve.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual overtures and conduct that makes the workplace environment hostile, offensive or intimidating. This can include any of the following:
- Offensive, repetitive joking
- Workplace sexual exposures
- Demanding sexual favors in exchange for not being fired or for a promotion
- Offensive touching
- Sexual assaults
While many sexual harassment victims are women, it is important to note that men may also be the victims of sexual harassment. Gay, straight and transgendered employees may all be targets, making sexual harassment an equal-opportunity discriminatory act.
What to do if you are experiencing workplace sexual harassment
There are several steps that you can take to protect yourself if you are being sexually harassed on the job.
1. Tell the person who is harassing you to stop
While it may be difficult for you to confront the harasser, it is an important step to take. This is a more successful approach for cases involving off-color jokes. It lets the harasser know that his or her behavior is unwelcome. Doing so is important as it establishes the basis for a claim of sexual harassment if you later need to file a complaint. If your harasser ignores your oral requests or if you are too uncomfortable to speak with him or her one-on-one, write a letter that details that you have requested or are requesting that the harasser cease the unwelcome behavior. This letter should identify what has been occurring, and it should clearly demand that the behavior stop. Save a copy of your letter.
2. Complain to your supervisor or human resources representative
Your company likely has a sexual harassment policy and procedure in place. You should follow the procedure as it is outlined, making certain that your complaint is in writing. If the harasser is the person to whom you are supposed to complain, file your complaint with his or her supervisor or with a human resources officer instead. If you workplace does not have a defined sexual harassment procedure, file a written complaint with your supervisor or with human resources anyway. If your initial complaint does not result in any correction, move up your company’s chain of command, documenting your efforts and the responses that you receive at every step of the way.
It is important that you do not skip the internal complaint process at your job. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that employees who do not make their employers aware of the sexual harassment that they are experiencing through a formal complaint promise may not hold the employers liable. Employers must be given notice and be allowed to take corrective measures, or you will not have sufficient legal grounds to file a complaint.
How to document your complaints
Documenting the steps you have taken as well as the harassment you have experienced is very important. Your attorneys at Swartz Swidler may later use your documentation as evidence to help prosecute your case against your employer if a lawsuit becomes necessary.
Begin by collecting as much information as is possible about the sexual harassment. This includes copying offensive emails, letters, cards, photographs or notes that you receive. If offensive jokes, cartoons or pin-ups harassed you, either confiscate them or make photocopies. Offensive and anonymous pictures and jokes posted on a company’s bulletin board are not the property of anyone else. This means that you can remove them and hold them as evidence. You should also take photographs of the walls showing the offensive material that is posted there. Make certain to detail when the material was posted and whether people reacted hostilely when you removed it.
Finally, keep a detailed diary about the harassment you are experiencing. This should list the date and time of each incident, the names of every person who was involved, what occurred and where it took place. You should also list the names of any people who witnessed the incident but who did not participate. You should also detail how the harassment has affected your health, your job performance and you. Keep your diary away from work in a safe place.
Make certain that you obtain copies of all of your performance evaluations and other personnel documents. It may be a good idea to ask for a copy of your complete personnel file before filing your complaint. This can be strong evidence if your employer later retaliates against you for complaining, which is also prohibited.
Complain to the EEOC and your state’s corresponding agency before filing a lawsuit
The law mandates that you complain to the EEOC and your state’s corresponding agency before you can file a lawsuit against your company for harassment. The agencies will investigate your complaint and attempt to negotiate a settlement for you if the find that your complaint has a valid basis. If you are unable to secure a favorable resolution through the federal or state investigation and settlement process, you may then get help from the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler with filing your civil lawsuit. This can help you to possibly recover damages that fairly compensate you.