Women Who Tech surveyed nearly 1,000 women working in the technology industry and found that approximately 48 percent of the women tech workers were victims of harassment. Those surveyed included employees, founders, and investors. Additionally, 42 percent claimed that the harassment came from a supervisor and 76 percent said it came from a fellow employee.
Women in power were also not immune from harassment. According to the study, 44 percent of women founders said they were previously harassed, and 41 percent said that they were sexually harassed. Sexual harassment included unwanted physical contact, sexual slurs directed at them, being groped, or having explicit photos sent to them. The survey was conducted through an anonymous online survey. This new study demonstrates a growing problem in the tech space, which has seen an increasing number of women in prominent positions.
What is Harassment?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as an unwelcome conduct based on a protected class. Most harassment involves the following:
Some of the more common forms of harassment in the workplace includes:
- Offensive jokes
- Demeaning remarks
- Name-calling and slurs
- Offensive pictures or objects, including pornographic images
- Physical assaults
While the more familiar form of workplace harassment occurs when a superior harasses an employee, an employee can also be guilty of harassing a fellow employee.
What Should I Do if I am Being Harassed at Work?
Those who feel they are the subject of harassment in the workplace need to take action to stop it. The first step to do is confront the person who is acting inappropriately. The person may not even realize that their actions are making someone uncomfortable. Confronting the person face-to-face is the most effective method in getting the behavior to stop. It will also add greater credibility to a legal case should that arise due to the incident. If the person ignores the request or does not comply, then the victim should write a letter directed at the person detailing their behavior and why it makes them uncomfortable. The victim should keep a copy of the letter for their own record.
If confronting the harasser fails, the victim should formally inform the company. This is a crucial step as it can be the difference between winning or losing a future court case. A victim should first refer to their employee handbook to learn what policies exist for harassment and to follow them. If there is no policy, then victims should go to their superior or a representative to report the incident. If they are unable to achieve any satisfaction at that level, they should move up the chain of command documenting each step.
A company has a legal obligation to protect their employees under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The NJLAD prohibits any employer from discriminating against an employee for their race, religious creed, color, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, nationality, sex, and other protected characteristics. The law also protects employees from harassment by stating that an employer has an obligation to prevent, investigate, and address all harassment claims in the office.
Should I Report the Harassment?
It is essential that a victim reports the incident to the company so it can correct the situation. If the company fails to make it right, the victim can then file a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that those that do not inform the company and fail to give it the opportunity to repair the situation may not be allowed to hold that company liable for the incident.
The Women Who Tech study found a disturbing statistic in terms of the number of women who reported their harassment to their superiors. The study found that only 45 percent reported these incidents to senior management. One possible reason for the high volume of non-reports is the victims’ lack of faith in the companies they work for. Out of those surveyed, 67 percent did not trust their companies to correct the incidents.
How can I Protect Myself?
The victim should take precautions so they can support their story with evidence. The victim should collect any offensive jokes, pictures, or other inappropriate content that is left around their desk or on the walls of the office. If the person is unable to physically collect the evidence, they should take pictures of the inappropriate material. A victim should also keep a detailed journal of all the incidents of harassment that occurred, including the date and time. A victim should include whether they told the person to stop and include how the behavior made them feel as well as the impact it had on their job performance.
There are instances where a company will side with the harasser and not the accuser, despite overwhelming evidence in the accuser’s favor. The company will then attempt to discipline the accuser by terminating their employment or just making the workplace difficult for the person. To prevent the employer from taking retaliatory actions against the victim, the accuser should obtain a copy of their personnel file before they bring a formal complaint to the company. They should obtain copies of their evaluation reports and keep them with the remainder of their records. This way, the company cannot claim the person is being disciplined for reasons unrelated to the accusations.
What Should I Do if My Company Failed to Act?
If a person has gone to their employer to address their harassment and the company failed to address the situation, they can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR). This agency covers all employers in the state regardless of their size. If a victim wants to file a federal complaint, they can file a complaint with the EEOC. However, the EEOC only handles employers with 15 or more employees. Victims have a 180-day deadline in which to file a complaint with the agency starting from the date of the incident.
It is important to note that the two agencies have a work-sharing agreement, meaning that they will work with each other to process claims. A person does not need to file a claim with both agencies. They can file it with one and request that the two cross-file the complaint.
When Should I Involve a Lawyer?
It is up to the victim to decide when it is the right time to hire an employment lawyer to help them through the situation. A lawyer can help a victim gather the evidence they need and document their experiences as well as their interactions with their employer as they attempt to report any harassment. A lawyer can also help advise a victim on whether it makes sense to file a claim with the DCR or to move forward with a civil case. Given the 180-day limit on when to file a case with the state agency, a person should get in touch with a lawyer earlier rather than later to allow them the time to go over the case and offer sound advice.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Counsel Victims of Harassment in the Workplace
If your boss or co-worker made inappropriate or sexually suggestive remarks to you at work, you have the right to stand up for yourself. If you are not seeing any positive responses from your employer or need legal advice, a Cherry Hill employment lawyer at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. can help. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online today for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.