For over two decades now, my firm has been representing workplace victims of sexual harassment in vindicating their rights both inside and outside the State of New York.
If you work in the United States, you are likely to be fortunate to have rights in the workplace that must be respected by your employer, supervisors, and co-workers.
You are up to date with the news and have probably participated in company trainings or workshops to know that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination, it is against the law, and it happens to employees of different genders.
You know that sexual harassment is a violation that can take numerous forms that may or may not involve touching or even being in the same room as the perpetrator. The worst forms of sexual harassment might be sexual assault inside the workplace or even outside the workplace—by a co-worker, manager, or even a client or vendor. Just as damaging can be acts of sexual harassment conducted over text messages, phone calls, voice mails, and emails. Watching pornography in the office, in the presence of others is also not so rare an occurrence of sexual harassment. This list is not exhaustive.
You have probably been told that if you are being sexually harassed, you should immediately report the event to your company’s Human Resources Department or even march right up to the police station to report it.
If your circumstances permit, and you are not in a life-threatening situation, it’s best to consult with an experienced employment lawyer about your situation, before reporting the acts of sexual harassment to Human Resources, or to the police.
Human Resources staff are often well-spoken, and have received extensive training on resolving disputes in the workplace. Though they may behave like advocates for employees, it’s certainly not their job to advocate for employees. The allegiance of Human Resources lies firmly with your employer, who pays their salaries. Their ultimate goal is to avoid potential litigation and protect the company from any legal trouble. They are not paid to represent you or to protect your interests and rights in the workplace.
In many cases, when an employee goes to Human Resources to report sexual harassment, without having obtained legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer, some Human Resources personnel will blame the employee, the victim, for having behavioral or performance problems, and sometimes will cover up the fact that the employee scheduled an appointment to report sexual harassment.
You need an advocate that represents you, and is vested in protecting your interests. This is why you need to consult with an employment lawyer before complaining to your Human Resources Department, if your circumstances permit.
As for going to the police, of course going to the police promptly is the right thing to do, when the conduct is criminal. Still, it’s best to consult counsel first, about the timing of the police complaint, and to be prepared with the appropriate evidence going into the police so that the prosecutor’s office is more likely to evaluate the case seriously. It’s unfortunate that the police sometimes treat the victims with disrespect because they think the victim is trying to build a civil case later, by first reporting criminal conduct. All the more reason not to go unprepared (psychologically or otherwise) before visiting the police station.
Under no circumstances should you remain silent about the problem. Even if you are worried about retaliation or concerned that people will not believe you, you must take action. Attorneys like myself have a great deal of experience fighting difficult sexual harassment cases – and very often we can help you put an end to it.
You might be worried about the fact that you are undocumented, or that you are here legally, but are not a green card holder or a U.S. citizen. You still have rights, and you can be helped. Attorneys that also concentrate in immigration law, like myself, can help you navigate the legal process in a way that is protective of your interests.
Seeing an attorney immediately also means that you are protecting your rights and the rights of others. If your employer knows you are already consulting with an attorney, your employer will be hesitant to threaten you or fire you in response to your coming forward – in other words, retaining an experienced lawyer to assist you in reporting the sexual harassment is like putting on a bullet-proof vest. If you come forward in asserting your rights, the employer will also be more likely to respect the rights of other employees who come forward.
Sexual harassment unfortunately remains a serious problem facing employees in virtually all lines of work today. If you are a victim of this behavior, stand up and act. You will have done your part towards resolving a humanitarian crisis.