Can I Be Punished for Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unfortunately all too common in many American workplaces. Sometimes, it is another employee, a supervisor or manager doing the harassing.

In smaller workplaces it could even be the employer. Too many employees worry that they could be punished in some way if they report the sexual harassment they have been subject to, even lose their jobs.

This fear is unfounded because both state and feral legislation prohibits an employer from punishing any employee who reports being sexually harassed at work.

In fact, a good employer should create an environment which makes it easy to report cases of sexual harassment. If an employer does not act on a report of sexual harassment or attempts to punish you for reporting it, you can make a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and / or file a lawsuit against your employer.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

The EEOC regulates all cases of discrimination at work in workplaces that employ more than 15 employees. In federal anti-discrimination law, sexual harassment is characterized as a type of sexual discrimination.

More specifically, sexual harassment includes any kind of behavior that involves advances, demands, favors requested, threats made verbally, physically or through any kind of communication such as text messages, emails, social media messages or comments, letters or notes sent.

The law makes it clear that the level of harassment must be such that it creates a hostile or unwelcome work environment or leads to an adverse employment decision.

Despite the fact that the EEOC primarily deals with medium to large workplaces, state sexual harassment laws are also in force. In some states, sexual harassment legislation is tougher than the federal equivalent.

Legislation on sexual harassment does not specify the gender involved. It equally applies to males harassing females, females harassing ales or same sex harassment.

As an example of sexual harassment at work might be when an employer suggests that sexual favors should be offered in exchange for promotion or staying in a job.

What Are My Rights?

The EEOC doesn’t just regulate anti-discrimination laws, which include any form of sexual harassment, but also enforces prohibition of any kind of retaliation by an employer for reporting sexual harassment. Retaliation which is prohibited includes things like:

  • threatening to withhold wages;
  • reducing wages;
  • firing or threatening to fire an employee;
  • issuing warnings;
  • scrutinizing an employee excessively;
  • withholding benefits or pensions;
  • any other kind of negative employment decision.

You have the right to file a complaint with the EEOC if you have been sexually harassed or you believe that your employer has punished you in any way for reporting the harassment, but you must have evidence of the type of harassment you have been subjected to and that you have made an attempt to report the harassment to your HR, or a supervisor and your report has been ignored or you have been subject to some form of retaliation.

With the law on your side, it is best to report harassment as soon as it occurs. In a responsible workplace, your employer should have measures in place to prevent the harassment from taking place once it has been reported.

Keep a record of any and every instance of harassment experienced, including time, date, form of harassment, who was involved, etc.

Make sure you report the harassment to your supervisor, HR or manager in writing as this can be used as evidence if you need to file a complaint.

Keep a record of the response you get from whoever you reported the case of harassment to, or whether there was any response at all, or whether the response was negative. Any negative response, i.e. any kind of retaliation you experience should be recorded.

If it gets to this stage, you should take the matter to the EEOC. You have 180 days from the date of the harassment or retaliation to being the matter to the EEOC.

Normally, the EEOC will appoint someone to investigate the complaint. If there is no resolution, you will be given permission to file a lawsuit against your employer for damages with the help of an employment lawyer.

Get Help Today

An employment lawyer can provide advice about your rights if you have been sexually harassed at work or you have been punished or faced retaliation by your employer for reporting an incidence of sexual harassment.

The lawyer can help you build a case to take to the EEOC or if all else fails, file a lawsuit against your employer for violating state or federal employment law.

Additional Resources