If you have had the misfortune to have been a victim of sexual harassment in your workplace it is never easy to make a complaint on your own. It can also be emotionally stressful because it is often hard to prove.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment in the workplace could include several different situations which are:
- unwelcomed sexual advances,
- a request for sexual favors,
- verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and which interferes with an employee’s ability to do his/her job;
- verbal or physical conduct that creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment.
The main outcome of sexual harassment in the workplace is that the behavior prevents the victim from doing his/her job competently.
Other features of a sexual harassment case are the victim and/or harasser could be a woman or a man and doesn’t have to be of the opposite sex.
The harasser could be the complainant’s supervisor, a coworker, a non-employee, an agent of the employer, or a supervisor in another part of the workplace. The victim does not need to be the person harassed, but anybody who is affected by the offensive behavior. Finally, the harasser's conduct must not be welcome.
Sexual harassment according to the 1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a form of sex discrimination. Under Title VII employers who employ 15 or more workers including state and local governments, employment agencies, the federal government and labor organizations are not permitted to allow sexual harassment to take place in their workplaces.
Complaining About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
As soon as you have been sexually harassed at work you should inform the harasser face to face that his/her conduct is not welcome and must come to an end.
The next thing you should do is file a complaint in writing to your employer. The key thing about any complaints about sexual harassment is that you will need the evidence to prove it. As soon as the sexual harassment takes place you should do the following immediately while the incident is fresh in your mind.
- Make written notes of the date, time, and place of the incident/incidents;
- Record in writing any forms of communication with the harasser such as voice messages, text messages and emails. You can save voice mail messages on your phone.
- Record in writing the names and contact details of any witnesses which can be co- workers, supervisors or even customers.
Before filing a complaint you should review your company’s policy on sexual harassment and follow its guidelines. This will ensure your employer will listen to you. If you work in New York State, every employer is required to have in place a sexual harassment prevention policy.
The policy must disallow sexual harassment and provide examples of sexual harassment that is unlawful. A complaint form should be available for employees and the procedure used to investigate the complaint.
Employees must know that they have the right to lodge a complaint whether it is just to the employer or through the legal system. Also the employer must make known that when a defendant is named on a complaint form that retaliation against the victim or his/her witnesses is not tolerated.
Because NYC takes sexual harassment in the workplace seriously, all employees must receive training every year.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help
If you have completed a complaint form about your sexual harassment and your employer hasn’t responded in the way you would expect, you can file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII or your state’s fair employment practices agency.
These organizations may investigate and will probably propose mediation, or even try to negotiate a settlement between you and your employer.
You must go through this process before filing a lawsuit. An attorney can also help you negotiate your company’s internal complaint’s system and respond on your behalf to the investigator’s questions, draft your agency charge, and much more. If necessary, an attorney can also help you vindicate your rights in court.
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