WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE SEXUALLY HARASSED AT WORK?
You are aware by now, that sexual harassment in the workplace 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.
In this blog, we will focus on what constitutes sexual harassment, and how to report it. In future blogs, we will address how to report sexual harassment that another employee is being subjected to, and the rights of those wrongly accused of sexual harassment.
The worst forms of sexual harassment might be sexual assault by a co-worker, or a manager, or even a client or vendor.
Other forms of sexual harassment include verbal and written comments about a person’s physical appearance, lewd jokes, viewing pornographic material in another employee’s person’s presence, displaying pornographic photos/images, invading or blocking a person’s physical space and thereby preventing them from moving, without touching the perpetrator, sending sexually inappropriate text messages, voice mails, and emails. This list is not exhaustive, unfortunately- and the problem is as old as the hills.
Men, women, and transgender employees are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, although women appear to be impacted in larger numbers.
What should you do, if you find yourself subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace?
Express it———– Record it——-Report it right away.
• Express a clear objection to the sexual harassment. Tell the harasser to stop it, immediately and unequivocally.
• Record what happens as it happens, using your own personal notebook that only you have access to, or your own personal handheld device. Don’t use the employer’s computer, or other equipment. If possible, do this during an approved break (such as a lunch break), outside the office.
• Report it, with the help of counsel, so that the employer may investigate the problem, and put an end to it, i.e. take corrective action.
Reporting sexual harassment is a loaded subject. 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.
Even if you are not in a life-threatening situation, it’s best to immediately contact an experienced employment lawyer about your situation, and discuss what happened, before reporting the acts of sexual harassment to Human Resources.
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 the many cases I have handled, 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.
Another reason to obtain legal advice first, is that anything you disclose to Human Resources is not going to be kept confidential, and will be reported to your supervisors, and to other managerial employees. To avoid distortion of the facts disclosed verbally to Human Resources, during a meeting, sometimes (depending on the circumstances), it is best to have your lawyer write to Human Resources about the acts of sexual harassment.
If the employment lawyer senses that the acts of sexual harassment might be criminal in nature, he or she can also advise you on how to timely report it to the police with all accompanying evidence.
If the acts of sexual harassment have made you sick, obtain medical attention right away. If the medical provider recommends time off of work due to your illness, an experienced employment lawyer can assist you in applying for the appropriate type of medical leave, depending on the size of the employer, and the local laws of the jurisdiction you are in.
Under no circumstances should you remain quiet about sexual harassment, even if you are undocumented and worried about retaliation or concerned that people will not believe you. You must take action. Attorneys that concentrate in immigration law and employment law 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 not only protecting your rights, but also possibly preventing the sexual harassment of others in the workplace. If your employer knows you are already consulting with an attorney to protect your rights in the workplace, your employer will be hesitant to threaten you or fire you in response to your coming forward. 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.