In our recent blogs, we have addressed what to do if you’re a victim of sexual harassment, or if you are accused of sexual harassment.
What if you are not a victim of sexual harassment, but have personal knowledge of acts of sexual harassment other employees were subjected to?
In today’s blog we will address what to do if you are a witness to sexual harassment and wish to report what you have personal knowledge of, to the employer.
Perhaps you saw a co-worker sexually assaulted by another co-worker, or a supervisor.
Perhaps you are aware that another employee succumbs to a supervisor’s sexual advances in order to keep his or her job.
Perhaps you know that an employee is surreptitiously videotaping employees as they change their clothes or use the toilet.
You know the conduct that is taking place is wrong, and perhaps even against the law, and you wish to put an end to what is happening, because you are concerned that if the conduct goes unreported and no corrective action is taken, other employees’ rights will also be violated next.
In New York City, the New York City Human Rights Law (City HRL) protects the rights of employees who aid other employees in the exercise or enjoyment of their rights. In relevant part, the City HRL states, that “It shall be unlawful discriminatory practice for any person to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with, or attempt to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with, any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected pursuant to this section.”
In other words, if you decide to report the sexual harassment to the employer on behalf of the victim of sexual harassment, you should not be subjected to any retribution, and if you are, you would have a cause of action against the employer.
If you are going to report the acts of sexual harassment you have personal knowledge of, to your employer, first locate the policies and procedures, or any handbooks and carefully review the sections concerning reporting sexual harassment (or any acts of discrimination) to the employer.
In my view, it is best that you report the acts of sexual harassment with specificity, and send it via email or some form or trackable mail (such as priority mail or certified mail). Make sure you keep a copy for yourself. If you are in two minds about whether you are reporting this correctly, or fear of retribution is imminent, based on how others who have lodged similar complaints have been treated, it’s in your best interest to consult with an experienced employment lawyer, beforehand. The nela.org lawyers’ directory is a great resource to locate an employment lawyer and obtain advice on how to protect your rights and interests.
Once you have lodged your complaint, you will be called in for meetings with manager and/or Human Resources during which you will be asked additional questions about your knowledge of the sexual harassment you have witnessed.
Be truthful and be specific.
After that, be very alert to what is happening in the workplace. If you notice any changes to your working conditions, such as receiving less favorable assignments, a decrease in workload, exclusion from meetings or company events, or any change in how you are treated, then keep a careful record of the same, in a private journal at home, or using your handheld (provided the handheld is not your employer’s property.)
You will have to report this to the company as well to place them on notice that your rights under the City HRL (if you work within the five boroughs of New York City) are being violated as a result of you complaining about sexual harassment on behalf of other employees.
Before reporting the violations of your own rights, it is best to schedule a consultation with an experienced employment lawyer, so that you have the benefit of sound legal advice and a strategy in place as to what the next steps are, based on how the company may react. Sometimes it may make sense to have your employment lawyer make an appearance to your employer and lodge the complaint on your behalf.
Over the years, I have represented individuals who have demonstrated courage in aiding other employees in the exercise of their rights. While some of them suffered acts of retribution, all of them were able to successfully resolve their claims.
The most rewarding aspect of them coming forward was a change in the workplace culture, and a greater respect for the rights of employees.