What Steps Should I Take If I Am The Victim Of Sexual Harassment?
Being the victim of sexual harassment at work can be one of the most distressing forms of discrimination because it leaves the person feeling so powerless and violated. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Fortunately for California residents, the FEHA provides more protections than Title VII, such as applying to any employer with five or more employees and having no caps on the amount of compensation a victim is entitled to for pain and suffering and punitive damages.
Sexual harassment involves an employee or applicant being exposed to unwanted sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature. It can involve a wide range of actions, such as:
- Comments about the person’s body or sexual activity
- Sexual jokes
- Requests for sexual favors
- Pressuring the person to go out on dates
- Leering at the person
- Making gestures of a sexual nature
- Having posters in the workplace that degrade women
- Unwanted touching or grabbing
- Sexual assault
The perpetrator of the illegal actions can be a supervisor, co-worker, or a non-employee, such as a customer, and can be committed by a person of the same sex as the victim. Under the FEHA, there are two types of sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo. This refers to discrimination where the employee is pressured to engage in an unwanted sexual act in order to obtain a benefit of employment, such as a job, a raise, or a promotion, or to not get into trouble at work.
- Hostile work environment. In this type of discrimination, the harasser’s unwanted sexual conduct makes it difficult for the employee to perform her job or creates a job environment that is intimidating, offensive, or hostile.
Take These Steps If You Believe You Are the Victim of Sexual Harassment
If you suspect you are being sexually harassed, you need to take steps to try to resolve the problem and to protect your claim for compensation under Title VII and the FEHA. You should do the following:
- Talk to the harasser. If you feel safe doing so, you should talk to the person harassing you about his offensive behavior. Some people do not realize that they are doing anything wrong, so talking about the problem could resolve it. You want to be as specific as possible about the offensive behavior and tell the person to stop doing it. If that does not resolve the problem, write him a memo detailing the offensive actions and ask that the behavior stop immediately. Keep a copy of the memo for your records.
- Complain to your supervisor. Inform your supervisor of the offensive behavior—unless he is the harasser—and about the steps you have used to resolve the problem. If you do not feel safe talking directly to the person harassing you, start by discussing the problem with your supervisor or human resources department. Follow up by putting your complaint in writing and keeping a copy of it in case you later need it.
- Follow your employer’s internal complaint process. Follow your employer’s internal complaint process. Some companies have a specific process for handling sexual harassment complaints that you will want to comply with. If you belong to a union, ask your union representative for help taking the next step in making a complaint. Again, you need to document everything in writing and keep a record of what you have done.
- Keep a journal. Keep a journal at your home that documents all incidents of suspected sexual harassment and your attempts to resolve the problem. Be certain to note the date, time, and witnesses to each incident.
- Keep copies of anything offensive. You should retain copies or pictures of any offensive posters, notes, or pictures that relate to your claim of illegal harassment.
- Keep copies of your work records. Save copies of all work-related documents, including your job evaluations and other memos or letters regarding the quality of your work. Your employer could defend against a claim of discrimination by claiming your job performance was unsatisfactory.
- Network with co–workers. If possible, discuss your situation with other co-workers. You may discover witnesses, supporters who can later help you, or others who are the victim of discrimination.
- File an administrative complaint. You should file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the FEHA. When you file with one agency, you can ask them to cross-file your complaint with the other agency. It is extremely important that you file your complaints because these are required before you can file a lawsuit. You must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of the last act of discrimination and within one year of the last act of discrimination with the FEHA—or you waive your right to file a complaint.
- Contact an attorney. You should contact an experienced employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible if your initial steps to stop the harassment do not resolve the problem. He can advise you on the best steps to take and can help you file your administrative complaints.
If you are being sexually harassed at your job, call our experienced legal team today at 949-679-9909 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.