Sexual harassment is an unfortunate situation that happens all the time. In many instances, it happens in the workplace and involves any type of unwanted sexual conduct or advances that make for a hostile, uncomfortable, offensive or intimidating workplace environment. There are also many ways that this type of harassment can be present, such as someone sending pornographic photos to telling sexual jokes to make certain sexually suggestive comments to or around employees. Additionally, although women the most common victims of this type of harassment, men can also be victims. Generally speaking, anyone, gay or straight, can also become victims.
There are both federal and state laws in place to protect employees from sexual harassment while at work. Many of these laws also protect people against gender discrimination. If you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, there are certain measures you can take to protect yourself.
Tell the Harasser to Stop
Although it might seem difficult, the first step you can take to protect yourself from harassment is to outright tell the harasser to stop their actions or behavior. Dealing with this head-on is often the most effective. This lets the individual know that you do not like the actions or behavior and tells them that it’s not welcome. If the person ignores you, there are other steps you can take next. Document the situation and keep a copy for yourself. You should also speak with your direct supervisor or boss about the harassment if the harasser becomes more hostile or threatening and you are worried for your safety.
Complain to Supervisors
As stated before, you should go to your supervisor to complain about the harassment if speaking with the harasser is ineffective. Refer to your employee handbook to learn whether there is a policy against this type of harassment in place. See how you can handle a complaint and if you have to make one with the supervisor themselves or through your human resources department. If your supervisor isn’t helpful, you will have to bypass them and speak to a higher-up about the situation. Continue to document the situation as well so that you have a record.
Even if there is no formal procedure regarding making a complaint against the harassment in the company, you should still inform the company of the problem.
You must have documentation of everything regarding the harassment. This is essential in the event that you decide to file a legal claim against the harasser or even the company. Gather as much evidence as possible and save anything you receive from the harasser as proof of the harassment. If possible, include all the dates and possibly times of each instance of harassment. You may also want to write down how the action or behavior affected you physically, mentally and emotionally. Note whether it has also adversely affected your job performance and keep your journal or notes in a safe place at home.
Always make copies of your employee performance evaluations and other work-related documents as well. You can even ask the human resources department for a copy of your file. If your employer tries to retaliate against you for filing a complaint, you can use this in your case.
Complain to Government Agencies Before Filing a Lawsuit
If your employer won’t help you, you can then complain to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state fair employment office. File a civil suit if an internal investigation and attempt to settle is unsatisfactory to you. However, it’s important to note that you are required to file a complaint with the EEOC before filing a federal suit.
Contact an Attorney
It’s imperative that you speak with an experienced sexual harassment attorney if you are planning on filing a lawsuit. A sexual harassment lawyer will listen to you about your situation and inform you about whether you have a legitimate case. To that end, it’s important to know whether the conduct by the individual in question at your workplace is sexually harassing.
Conduct Reasonable People Would Find Offensive
If someone is sexually harassing you at work, it includes any type of unwelcome, offensive behavior that any other reasonable person would find objectionable. Comments, emails, jokes, physical conduct and other actions can be considered harassment if they create a hostile workplace. In other words, if something the person has done would be viewed as just a friendly gesture, it won’t qualify as harassment.
Severe or Pervasive Conduct
If the individual’s conduct is severe or pervasive, such as constantly telling a female coworker how “hot” she is on a daily basis, it can be considered harassment. At the same time, even a single incident can fall under the category of harassment if it is severe enough. If someone sexually assaulted another person at the workplace, for instance, that would be enough to go past harassment laws and can even be criminally prosecuted.
Supervisor Harassment of an Employee
If a supervisor harasses an employee, the employer is liable even if they had no knowledge of the situation. However, if the harasser is a coworker and the victim is not a subordinate, the victim is required to report the problem to the employer. The employer is required to then address the situation and take action before being held liable.
What Lawyers Look for in a Case
When you speak with a sexual harassment lawyer, there are certain things you can expect them to look for in your case. They include the following:
• Whether the conduct was truly unwanted: If you participated in banter or sexual jokes, the conduct was not truly unwanted.
• Whether the conduct was objectively offensive: A sexual harassment attorney also explores whether the conduct was objectively offensive.
• Whether the conduct was committed by a supervisor or if it was reported: If it was a supervisor who committed the harassment or even a coworker, that needs to be documented. An attorney wants to see the evidence so they can use it in your case.
• Extent of your damages: It’s important to learn from the lawyer about the extent of your damages and even what damages, in general, you can expect. For example, if you lost pay, were demoted, denied a promotion, had your hours cut or were even fired, you would recover the money that was due to you.
• Whether you are a good witness: Your attorney will also determine whether you are a good witness to testify in your case. An evaluation includes your credibility, appearance and jury appeal. It’s important to dress appropriately for meeting your lawyer and for appearing in court.
If you believe you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment in California, it’s important to get in touch with West Coast employment lawyers. It is the best way to learn whether you truly have a case and can recover the compensation you deserve. Contact West Coast employment lawyers at your earliest convenience.