Sexual harassment isn’t something most employees expect to have to deal with in the work place. It generally takes employees by surprise and many of them are at a loss as to what to do. You’re not alone if you are confused about workplace sexual harassment. You may suspect you’re being sexually harassed but aren’t sure what to do. Or maybe you’re being harassed because of your gender or some other protected characteristic, and don’t realize what you’re experiencing is illegal sexual harassment.
Here are the top eleven things you need to know about sexual harassment at work:
1. Don’t quit…yet.
Some employees, spurred on by rage or fear, quit as soon as they first experience an act of harassment. They may be angry, embarrassed or afraid to go back.
While that is entirely understandable, if you quit, you might be giving up your sexual harassment claims, and your career. If your employer has a published sexual harassment policy, you must report the harassment under that policy and give the employer the opportunity to fix the situation. If you don’t, you may lose your sexual harassment lawsuit. Cases have been dismissed where employees have not followed the proper channels and given the employer time to address the harassment claims.
2. Is there a sexual harassment policy?
Harassment and discrimination policies can usually be found in your employee handbook. You may also check those posters in the lunch or copy room, your union contract, or your company’s intranet site. Follow the steps as outlined, and keep a log or journal of what you’re doing and the response you get at each step. Report to the person listed in the policy. If you don’t get a response, or if that person is the one harassing you, report it to the next person in the policy, or higher up in the chain of command. Continue up the chain of command until you receive an answer.
3. Don’t rely on phone calls to report harassment…Put it in writing.
No matter to whom you report the harassment, make sure you document your complaint in writing. Even if the harassment policy allows you to file a complaint via phone call, do not rely on that…after you hang up, there will be no evidence that you made the complaint. Keep a log of every sexual comment, sexual advance, glimpse of pornography, inappropriate joke or email, anything that you’ve experienced or witnessed where women were treated differently than men or vice versa , or where you felt harassed. Call it a “Formal Complaint of Sexual Harassment.” Some employees say they made a report of “a hostile environment,” “bullying” or “harassment” without saying it was because of their sex. They say they “didn’t want to go there.” Sadly, you have to go there. General harassment, bullying and a hostile work environment may not be illegal and if you report it that way you may not be
protected from retaliation.
4. There’s more than one type of harassment.
Most people think of sexual harassment as unwanted sexual overtures, groping, and sexual remarks. That’s only one kind of sexual harassment. If you are being harassed because you’re a male or because you’re a female, that’s sexual harassment too. Whether you’re assigned to less favorable shifts, given more difficult assignments, placed in less lucrative territories, or simply being demeaned, you need to report it. There other types of harassment, based on gender are still unlawful, but you must report it under your sexual harassment policy.
You can also seek damages for other types of harassment under California law, including harassment based on race or religion, national origin, or sexual preference or identity.
5. A single incident generally doesn’t constitute harassment.
The courts say that the sexual harassment has to be so severe or so pervasive (meaning frequent) that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. A single comment, grope or inappropriate email probably isn’t enough for a lawsuit, but it’s worth reporting. Behavior that courts have rejected as not being sexual harassment has included calling at home, asking for dates, looking down a blouse, lifting up a skirt, instances of groping, single instances of disgusting comments, rubbing, and all types of extreme behavior. The more these things pile up, the more obvious it is that harassment is occurring. If you have questions about behavior that you may think is harassment, contact an experience employment law attorney (like Stephen Danz) in order to seek guidance and advice as to what makes a solid harassment case.
6. There’s nothing requiring your company to terminate the harasser.
Unless company policy says otherwise, there is no requirement that your employer fire the harasser. Other, less severe punishments or remedies may be enough. Discipline, transferring the harasser, education, training, transferring the victim (under certain limited circumstances) or possibly termination are all valid remedies under the law. If you do not follow the company policy in reporting harassment and following up in the investigation then you may lose your right to require the company to address the harassment according to the same policy. You may also be giving up your chances of success in any subsequent lawsuit.
7. Your company does need to investigate.
You may be asked to provide a statement, and a list of witnesses to any acts of a harassing nature that were observed by others. The company investigation may include interviewing you, other witnesses provided by you and the harasser and the harasser. During this process the harasser may figure out you were the one that reported the conduct. While you are protected from retaliation, there may be some uncomfortable episodes that you will need to be prepared for. Confidentiality promised by the interviewers is nice, but it won’t mean much once the harasser knows there is an investigation, unless he or she is harassing a large number of people. Most employees feel some level of discomfort and perhaps trepidation, but then are often relieved after they have actually filed their complaint. Discussing your case with an employment law attorney will give you the assurance you need to know that you are following the correct path and that your company is following proper procedures and not jeopardizing your case.
8. Continue to report.
While your employer is required to create a safe workplace, free from harassment, they are not required to be psychic. If additional acts of harassment occur, you are required to report them in order to trigger your employer’s duty to respond. If you experience any acts of retaliation, you must also report those. At any point in this process, it behooves you to contact an employment law attorney (like Stephen Danz), in order to receive guidance on how best to proceed.
9. You’re not alone.
Never give in to feelings of isolation. They will happen and you will feel that you are going through this alone. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, as sometimes happens, that is natural and that is why Stephen Danz has trained his staff and all of his attorneys to be sensitive to his client’s needs in this area. You are only one phone call away from a sympathetic ear, and experience, aggressive representation.
Sexual harassment is often about the exercise of power over the victim, rather than just about sex. One sure way to gain power over a victim is to make him or her feel isolated. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. Small acts of harassment lead to bigger ones. Harassment of one person, leads to harassment of larger numbers of people, and a harasser who gets away with it a few times begins to exercise his or her power over others more aggressively. If you don’t do something, others will become victims, as well. If your employer will not take steps to rectify the situation, then Stephen Danz and his associates will force them to.
If your company has not addressed the situation and/or you feel unsafe or continue to experience stress related to the harassment, then you may have to leave your job. If the harasser, or anyone physically threatens you, or if things seems as though they are escalating, then you must protect yourself.
If you are unsure as to whether you have sufficient cause to quit your job, ask Stephen. He has represented victims of work place harassment for more than 30 years. He has seen almost every type of case from mild to wild and he can give you the advice you need, while lending a kind and understanding ear. And before you go? Try to have another job lined up. It is much easier to transfer to a new job than to go without work for a period of time and then look for one.
11. Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Danz & Associates at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free consultation today. Do NOT worry about attorney’s fees and other costs. Stephen takes nearly all of his cases on contingency, which means you pay nothing unless and until you recover damages from your employer. He has represented clients in nearly every city in California and also clients from around the world. He has offices in every major city and will schedule meetings in a location that is convenient to your work, school or home. Do not let your employer turn a blind eye to unlawful behavior. Stephen will force them to address your situation or pay for their lack of action.