Victims of sexual harassment often become paralyzed by fear. Will I lose my job? Who can I talk to? Am I going to become a target of retaliation? These are important thoughts.
Here’s what you need to know:
- If you feel comfortable objecting, tell the harasser to stop the conduct or comments.
- If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the harasser, read your employer’s handbook or wall posters to see if your company (a) has a policy on reporting harassment and (b) if it does, the exact steps you must follow. It’s critical that you follow the procedures exactly. If there is no policy, talk to your boss, your boss’ boss, or someone else higher in the company. If there is a Human Resource (HR) officer, speak with him or her for guidance.
- Consider also simultaneously talking to an employee rights lawyer – someone outside the company who’s an expert in your rights. My consultations are free. Many other employee rights lawyers will also consult for free. If you wait to talk to a lawyer you might that HR has twisted your words to the point where you have no claim left. An employee rights lawyer will work with you behind the scenes for free to help you spot and avoid HR traps. help you Some of my clients say they felt the HR department and managers had a conflict of interest and immediately took the side of the company. Read more about possible HR bias here: Can You Trust Your HR Department To Protect YOUR Interests?
- The law protects you against retaliation. To make sure you’re protected, put your complaints in writing and be sure you specifically report the conduct as harassment, as having sexual overtones, and as being unwelcome. You can report it verbally but, if you do, be sure to follow that with a confirming email for proof.
- Be mindful of your deadlines for pursuing a lawsuit. I practice in Florida and Georgia. The deadline in Georgia is 180 days from the date of the harassment. In Florida, it’s 300 days. Employers know these deadlines and may delay their “investigation” until your deadline runs and you lose the right to sue them. These deadlines are not frozen during internal investigations. They continue to run.
Finally, and as a refresher on sexual harassment, some pointers:
- Sexual harassment can occur in many forms: physical contact, eye/hand/hip gestures, comments, sounds, pictures, gifts and emails or messages.
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the conduct. So even if the target of the harassment is someone else, you can still assert a claim if it substantially affects your work environment.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to, or termination of, the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.