When sexual harassment occurs at work, most experts recommend discussing the problem with a supervisor or the company’s Human Resources (HR) department. This is not always possible, though. It may be too uncomfortable to bring it up to the boss or that person may even be the abuser. Smaller companies may not have HR departments, and even if the company is large, they may not have the proper protocols in place to report sexual harassment.
No matter where people work, sexual harassment is against federal and state laws. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment and employment discrimination of certain protected classes, such as an individual’s sex and gender, race, religion, age, or disability. Therefore, company HR departments are legally obligated to investigate and stop workplace sexual harassment, and they often have systems in place for this very reason.
There are state laws that may also apply. In some states, smaller employers may not be held accountable in the same ways as larger ones. Other states have fair employment practices laws that are even stricter than the federal one.
Should I Document the Instances of Sexual Harassment?
Whether or not the company has a sexual harassment policy, it is best to document all of the incidences of misconduct. A victim should do their best to carefully record the dates, times, and locations of the harassment, along with detailed descriptions of what happened. If anyone witnessed the events, their names should be written down as well. This information should not be entered into a work computer to protect one’s privacy.
Although it is tempting to immediately delete offensive texts or emails, this along with any other evidence should be kept in a safe place. As an added measure, an employee can make extra copies. It is also a good idea to keep a journal while the harassment is taking place. This could include how the harassment made the employee feel and how it may have affected their job performance, emotional well-being, and health.
Sometimes, an employer will try to retaliate against an employee who complains about sexual harassment. In addition to gathering all that evidence, harassed employees should also obtain copies of their personnel documents, including performance reviews, work assignments, and salary increases. Workplace retaliation is also against the law, and having proof of a recent demotion or something similar could act as strong evidence for a plaintiff’s case.
What is Considered Sexual Harassment?
Many employees who experience sexual harassment do not even realize that it is going on, so anyone who is concerned should document the events and understand how the EEOC defines sexual harassment. According to the EEOC, sexual harassment can involve state misogynistic comments about another person’s gender or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment also includes requests for sexual favors and unwelcome sexual advances.
Some employees will pass off sexual harassment as harmless behavior, even if they do realize that it is offensive or abusive. Other sexual harassment victims are afraid to speak up because they fear employer retaliation or even violence at the hands of their abuser. Seemingly mild sexual harassment can quickly and unexpectedly escalate into dangerous or even life-threatening situations. It is important to stop the sexual harassment as soon as it starts.
Sexual harassment generally falls into two categories: hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment. In a hostile work environment, employees are subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical behaviors that are abusive or severe enough to affect their ability to work. In quid pro quo harassment, another employee will request sexual favors in exchange for a job action, such as not firing the harassed employee or giving them a promotion. Common examples of workplace sexual harassment include circulating naked photographs in the workplace, commenting about an employee’s attractiveness repeatedly, suggestive emails and texts, and leaving an employee unwanted gifts that have a romantic or sexual nature.
How can I File a Workplace Sexual Harassment Complaint?
Employees who work for unions may be able to get help from their shop stewards. There is also the option of filing a formal grievance through the union, and the collective bargaining agreement can be consulted to see if there is a formal process for dealing with the harassment. When complaining to the employer or union is not possible, a harassed employee can contact the EEOC or their state’s fair employment agency.
It is important for an employee to understand that there is a statute of limitations for filing complaints, so the harassed worker should be aware of the time limit in their state. To file a federal lawsuit, the employee must file a complaint with the EEOC first. After the complaint is filed, the agency should take steps to investigate the sexual harassment claims, the company, and how they handled the misconduct. It is unusual for these agencies to prosecute these cases, but they will issue a complainant a Right to Sue letter, which allows them to take their case to court.
When Should I Contact a Lawyer About Sexual Harassment?
An employee who experiences workplace sexual harassment is often worried because making the wrong decision could affect how their complaint is handled. Certain steps may need to be taken to protect the employee’s rights. If the employee is confused about the company’s sexual harassment policy or unsure if the behavior qualifies as harassment, it might be best to get an objective opinion.
When there is an HR department but the employee is concerned about their job security, a lawyer can help them prepare for meeting with the appropriate party to make the complaint. If the employee has gone through the proper channels through their company and proper federal or state agency without any resolution, they may want to contact a lawyer. Employees are entitled to certain rights, including the right to be protected from sexual harassment in the workplace.
Building a Support System for Sexually Harassed Employees
A lawyer can help a sexually harassed employee hold their abuser and employer accountable, but a strong support system is essential for dealing with the emotional impact and aftermath of harassment. A victim can feel traumatized and isolated, but there are people who can help.
Sometimes, it can be helpful for a victim to talk to a colleague about the sexual harassment, but doing so may feel awkward. On the other hand, it may turn out that a colleague experienced similar harassment from the same abuser. Reaching out to trusted family members and friends can also be beneficial. There are also countless support groups for sexual harassment victims, and it can be good to hear how people with similar stories dealt with these traumatic situations. Other victims do best with one-on-one therapy.
A lawyer can help support the victim by fighting for their rights and by making sure they obtain their entitled compensation. A lawyer will advocate for the victim and ensure they receive justice.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Workplace sexual harassment comes in many forms, but it is never acceptable. You do not have to put up with this unwelcome behavior from your supervisor, co-worker, or another employee. A Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyer at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will devote their time toward protecting your rights. For a free consultation, call us at 215-569-1999 or complete our online form. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.