One of the most common forms of discrimination in the workplace is sexual harassment. Defined as any unwelcome sexual behaviors, including advanced, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct, this discrimination is protected against through the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Even with all of the media attention, government policies guarding against sexual harassment, and worldwide coverage of the discrimination and its consequence, it still continues to be a regular problem in the workplace.
However, victims of this type of discrimination often remain quiet, scared that whatever they do will either result in retaliation of some sort against them, or, maybe even worse, be ignored completely.
If you feel that you are being discriminated against through sexual harassment at work, you are not alone. You have rights and options, and you have the opportunity to advocate for yourself and see your harasser required to take accountability for his or her actions.
To help you on this difficult path, here is all you need to know about stopping sexual harassment at the source.
Information About Title VII – The Sexual Harassment Victim’s Defender
Title VII is a strict federal law that is intended to prohibit discrimination in the workplace. This does not just have to be sexual in nature, though. It includes all discrimination that occurs on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, or national origin.
Employers who staff 15 or more employees are obligated to ensure that their work environment is discrimination-free by having policies, procedures, and guidelines in place to protect against this harassment.
The law itself specifically mandates that it is illegal for a person to be retaliated against because they accused someone of discrimination or filed a lawsuit against someone charging discrimination. Across the board, whether your employer is a small business (with 15 or more employees) or a government branch, everyone must follow Title VII regulations.
What Steps Do I Take if I’m Sexually Harassed at Work?
Title VII grants you rights if you are a victim and places safeguards in place to guide people into thinking twice before they discriminate, but it can’t stop the action from happening in the first place. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is still a common problem in the workplace. To get the protection of Title VII, you have to come forward and make the accusation.
To do this, you should follow these steps to ensure that you have done your part to eliminate the discrimination and advocate for yourself.
Step One: First, you need to understand the type of harassment you are dealing with in your situation. When it comes to sexual harassment, there are two main categories that most actions fit in.
The first is called “quid pro quo” harassment. In this type of discrimination, a decision that affects your position, such as a promotion or ability to stay in your job, is determined by whether or not you submit to the sexual harassment.
The second creates a hostile work environment, when the harasser intimidates or otherwise interferes with the performance of an employee or co-worker and makes them uncomfortable in their workplace.
Understanding which type of harassment you are dealing with can help you to realize that you are not alone. There are so many other victims of this type of discrimination that they have created broad categories to address it.
Step Two: Next, you need to begin keeping documentation of every experience you have where you have felt harassed. This documentation should include details like the time, location, and witnesses, as well as what was said, done, or implied.
Whether you think it was a “small” thing or not, you need to write it down, as even the small details can help to explain the big picture. Keep this documentation in a safe, secret place until you need it in the future.
Step Three: While you are continually documenting anything you feel qualifies as discrimination, check your employee handbook or work policies. There should be a sexual harassment policy in place if they are following federal guidelines.
If you’ve found a sexual harassment policy, be sure you follow the steps as they are laid out. You will need to file a formal complaint in writing and give it to your supervisor or human resources department. Be sure to include details that include the people involves, what occurred, and any potential witnesses.
If going to your supervisor is not something that you feel comfortable doing, you can go straight to human resources or someone who handles workplace concerns. They may be able to direct you to your next step in filing an internal complaint if you can’t take it to your supervisor.
Your employer is ultimately the one responsible for ensuring that you have a safe workplace, so they have the first attempt at eliminating the harassing behavior. Through following your employer’s sexual harassment policy, you are covering your bases in case the actions continue even after your supervisor or manager has stepped in to intervene.
If, through intervention or lack of support, your employer is not able to control the harassment, you may have to consider further options discussed in Step Five.
Step Four: Find a support system and talk to them about what is going on in your workplace. This may be scary at first but confiding in your family and friends that you feel safe with can be a source of relief and even good advice.
Stopping sexual harassment can be a difficult and long road that depends on many factors. You will need someone to talk to along the way that will remind you that you are doing the right thing, even if you choose to do nothing beyond the initial complaint. The goal is to stop the actions, not necessarily to seek retribution for them.
Step Five: Decide whether or not you want to contact the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws. They are there to give you guidance and resources if you are not sure what to do next, or to investigate if you file a charge.
The role of ensuring a safe workplace falls on the shoulders of the employer, so if they are unable to or unwilling to stop the harassment, the EEOC will investigate the claim, including their steps since your initial written complaint.
An attorney is not necessary to file a complaint, but you only have 180 days from the initial date of the action to file it. This can be extended under certain circumstances.
I’m Worried About Retaliation – What Do I Need to Know?
Retaliation and retribution are common reasons why victims of sexual harassment refuse to come forward with a complaint. The majority of harassment cases exist because the harasser holds some form of power over the victim, and that fear of retribution is a real concern.
With many people living paycheck to paycheck, the fear of losing their job overshadows the pain and embarrassment of dealing with the harassment. In other cases, coming forward to complain could halt their hard work towards a promotion.
However, if you follow the steps to documenting and reporting the discrimination, you are also ensuring that any act of retaliation or retribution can be legally stopped. These behaviors are considered “adverse employment actions,” and you are protected against them.
Should I Get an Attorney?
For many people, the kneejerk reaction to hearing that someone was sexually harassed at work is, “You should file a lawsuit.” But there are factors to take into consideration before you head to your lawyer’s office to make a claim of sexual harassment.
Under federal law, you have to file an administrative charge with the EEOC or your state’s agency before you can file a lawsuit. If you have not done this, even if your attorney files a suit for you, it will be thrown out before your case can be heard.
Your state may also require that you file an administrative complaint with both the EEOC and your state’s fair employment practices agency before you are able to file a harassment lawsuit. Speak to an expert discrimination attorney, like those of us at Hershey Law, if you are not sure which steps you need to take before you file a lawsuit.
Once that charge is filed, your employer is notified by the agency you reported your complaint to and the allegations are either dismissed or investigated, depending on the documentation and details you each provide.
The EEOC may request that you and your employer attempt a mediation to settle the charges. If this does not work, the EEOC may decide to file a lawsuit on your behalf or will process your claim and release a “right to sue” letter to you. At this time, you can obtain an attorney to file a lawsuit for you.
While some people prefer to file a lawsuit themselves, legal representation can help you avoid missing deadlines and time limits, address your evidence and prepare it for presentation in court, and negotiate with the other party when that becomes necessary. If a satisfactory agreement is unable to be negotiated, then your attorney can present your case in court, representing you.
Who Should I Call for Help When I’m Ready to File My Lawsuit?
Not just any discrimination lawyer is the right one to call. Take some time to research those with good recommendations and reviews. In a matter as sensitive as this, you’ll want to be sure that your lawyer is knowledgeable but also cares about his or her clients as individuals.
If you are in the state of California, call us at Hershey Law for your free consultation. Let us review your case and guide you along your path to taking control, advocating for yourself, and helping to stop workplace harassment.