Sexual harassment, by employers or otherwise, is nothing new. But with the recent social media campaigns that focus on standing up and fighting back, like #metoo and Time’s Up, a lot of questions have been raised about what rights women have when it comes to recourse for sexual harassment. The biggest one is probably, “Can I sue my employer for sexual harassment?”
The short answer is yes, you can sue your employer for sexual harassment or sexual assault violations. But there are also a lot of things that you can do to stop sexual harassment in the workplace that not only greatly increases the chances of stopping it, but are also necessary stepping stones toward litigation.
Let’s look at the best plan of action for stopping sexual harassment at work and beginning the process of litigation.
In many instances of sexual harassment at work, simply saying something to the perpetrator is enough to stop the abuse. In the most simple of cases, the responsible party may not realize that their behavior is inappropriate. Saying something will bring it to their attention, make them consider consequences, and probably embarrass them into stopping. Likewise, if they know what they are doing, then bringing it the forefront will should do the same things. If the harasser or abuser is a superior, then saying something will put them on notice that their behavior is inappropriate and will not be allowed to slide. The next thing you need to do is follow your company’s policy on the issue.
It may sound kind of crappy that you need to follow company guidelines when you are the one being harassed–or even that their need to be such guidelines in the first place–but doing so will greatly improve your chances of getting justice later. Most large companies have a detailed handbook that outlines everything related to human resources and procedure, including dealing with sexual harassment claims. If your company is large enough to have one of these handbooks, get a copy, read it, and follow it. This procedure will outline how you should report the harassment, how long you have to report it, and other details that needed to be noted.
If your company has a Human Resources department, usually known as HR, then your next step is to formally file a complaint with their office. Chances are, they are the designated person to handle these claims. If your company is too small to have an HR department, address the issue with your supervisor or with a higher up in the company you trust. If your supervisor is the person committing the harassing or abusive behavior, then you should go above their head to the owner or main person in charge. It is critical to later litigation against your employer that they were aware of the incident(s).
Although it’s not a great thought, you should record everything that happens related to the sexual harassment. This includes dates, times, and locations of the harassment; who you spoke to about it and when; and any other details, like actions taken by management or witnesses.
If you have followed the above tips and the harassment is still continuing, then it’s time that you take action outside of the workplace and file a formal complaint with a government agency. This formal complaint is known as an administrative charge and it’s usually filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations. These government agencies will investigate the claim and begin steps to resolve the issue. If the agency determines your complaint to be valid, and cannot resolve the issue with the offender, then they will issue you something known as a Notice of Right to Sue. This document states that the agency has deemed the allegations valid, and that litigation may proceed.
Once you have been issued a Notice of Right to Sue, you can start the process of filing a civil lawsuit against your harasser to reclaim any damages caused. Most commonly, these damages are in the form of emotional injuries, lost income from work, lost benefits, and future concerns like counseling. There may also be punitive damages, depending on the seriousness of the allegations.
It is important to remember a few sobering details about sexual harassment claims; that is, you probably can’t sue for minor or infrequent harassment. This is simply the sad fact of the matter. This is because courts handle sexual harassment similar to other injuries in that they must be severe and damaging to proceed in civil court. This is not to say that some instances that happen once aren’t worth pursuing, because some are, but in most cases it needs to “severe or pervasive” meaning really bad or really often. Courts will often not allow civil cases for instance of repeat come-ons, looking down a shirt or up a skirt, nasty comments, or even infrequent instances of groping, as crazy as that might sound.
Likewise, the employer is also not required by law to fire the harasser. Instead, they are allowed to take other actions like warnings, discipline, moving the employee, etc. This may be frustrating to the person being harassed, and rightfully so, but it leads to the last and most important point about suing your employer for sexual harassment.
Know the course and stay the course. This means to follow the procedures, do everything you can to make your case strong, and do not do anything that could jeopardize your case. Retaliation, quitting your job, or acting out could all jeopardize your ability to take your case to court.
Remember, you have the right to work in an environment that is safe and free of sexual harassment. If you have been sexually harassed at work and none of the steps above have stopped the abuse, schedule a free consultation with the Dolman Law Group on Attornify.