How to tell if you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace
As stated above, workplace sexual harassment can occur in many ways, and some victims may not even realize it is happening to them. For example, the Cosmopolitan survey found that 16 percent of those polled said they had not experienced sexual harassment. However, those same participants reported being subjected to sexist or sexually suggestive comments at work. Apparently, they didn’t realize that such behavior qualifies as unlawful sexual harassment.
Sometimes, incidents of sexual harassment are overt. A manager who threatens the career of a subordinate because he or she refuses to go on a date is an obvious example. Another clear violation is a manager offering of a job, promotion or work-related perk in exchange for a sexual favor. However, less overt circumstances can also constitute harassment. For instance, supervisors who repeatedly invite employees to stay late or come to dinner alone could be trying to get unwanted one-on-one time with that employee. Another example could be a co-worker who constantly invades an employee’s personal space.
Some general rules to remember about sexual harassment:
- Victims and perpetrators can be male or female
- Victims and perpetrators can be of the same sex
- Perpetrators can be superiors, co-workers or non-employees
- People other than the victim can also be impacted by the harassment
- Someone does not have to suffer economic injury or lose his or her job to be the victim of illegal sexual harassment
- The perpetrator’s actions must be unwanted, and the victim needs to state the behavior is unwanted
- Employers and employees must remember that sexual harassment is never permissible and allegations must be taken seriously
Remember, employees who are unsure whether they are experiencing workplace sexual harassment can always contact a sexual harassment lawyer for clarification.
What should I do if I’m a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace?
As the statistics posted above indicate, around one in three women and one in five men become victims of workplace sexual harassment. So what should a victim of sexual harassment do?
Prepare in advance to speak up
Sexual harassment can be a very jarring experience, and some people physically and/or mentally freeze when it occurs. In order to prevent this, it may help employees to consider what their response should be in advance. A strong response could help to discourage the perpetrator and make it clear for legal reasons that the harassment was unwanted.
Make notes of any incidents of harassment
Victims of harassment should write down exactly what happened as soon as they can. Include any promises or threats that were made. Any relevant texts, emails or documents should also be saved. These records should be kept in a safe location.
Report the harassment to the employer
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that employees must report sexual harassment to their employer in order to retain the right to sue. If an employee’s company has a specific protocol for reporting harassment, it should be meticulously followed. If there is no protocol in place, employees should report harassment to their immediate supervisor. If the supervisor is the perpetrator, the harassment should be reported to the supervisor’s boss. However, victims should keep in mind that their employer’s human resources department is designed to protect the company and may not conduct a thorough investigation. With that in mind, victims should always document their communications with HR.
Report the harassment to state or federal agencies
If an employer fails to resolve a sexual harassment complaint, the victim can file a complaint with a state or federal agency, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the EEOC. Employers are forbidden from retaliating against employees who file formal complaints. That doesn’t automatically mean that an employer won’t retaliate, but it does mean the employee could take legal action if they do. If a government agency cannot resolve an employee’s complaint, it will issue a “right to sue” letter. This means the victim has grounds to take an employer to court.
Take legal action
Victims granted the right to sue by a government agency can file a civil lawsuit against their employer with the help of a sexual harassment attorney. If the suit is successful, a victim could be awarded:
- Job reinstatement
- Back pay
- Lost benefits
- Damages for mental anguish or emotional distress
- Attorney fees and court costs
In addition, the employer may be required to change its policies and training procedures to ensure incidents of sexual harassment do not happen again.
Do I need to hire a sexual harassment lawyer?
Victims of sexual harassment will likely have many questions about their situation. An Orange County sexual harassment attorney could assess an employee’s case and explain all legal options available. For example, an attorney could provide information on:
- Whether a victim’s experience meets the legal requirements of sexual harassment
- How to properly document incidents of harassment
- What to say to the perpetrator
- How a victim can protect himself or herself from employer retaliation
Even if legal professionals determine that a specific case does not merit legal action, they could help an employee understand how to identify sexual harassment in the future.