I am Being Sexually Harassed at Work: What Should I Do?
Sexual harassment is one of the most common and difficult workplace situations to navigate, especially when the harasser is your boss. You want to report the misconduct but you are afraid of being fired or otherwise retaliated against. You need to know what actions to take to stop the harassment while protecting your job and legal rights.
Sexual harassment often includes one or more of the following types of unwelcome behavior by a supervisor or co-worker:
- Physical touching
- Comments about your appearance/body/attractiveness
- Sexually explicit text messages or e-mails
- Sexual “jokes” or innuendos
- Persistent leering or staring
- Displaying sexual materials
- Solicitation of explicit pictures
- Repeated requests for a romantic date
If you are enduring sexual harassment at work, you need to take immediate action. Follow these 4 steps:
- Send a respectful, written complaint. Work e-mail is fine but include relevant dates and immediately print off a copy. In the complaint, be helpful and professional, offer solutions to the problem, and do not threaten.
- Be specific. Narrow down the key facts. Who, what, where, and when. Do not submit an excessively long complaint.
- Avoid legal conclusions. Do not say “this is illegal harassment.” You can say the same thing with more tact: “I feel like I’m being treated differently because of my sex….” The latter is not a legal conclusion and it is sufficient without being overly aggressive.
- Send your complaint to the right person. Follow the company’s reporting procedures or if the company does not have a reporting policy use your best judgment (usually human resources, or the owner in small companies). If the harasser is the owner and your boss and there is no one to send a complaint to, call a Nashville employment lawyer immediately to discuss your options.
Companies are responsible for what happens to their employees at work. Employers must take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring and, once a company is aware that harassment may be occurring, it has a legal duty to prevent it from continuing. Preventative measures may include conducting an investigation into sexual harassment allegations, disciplining/firing the harasser, and taking other corrective measures such as relocating the harasser away from your work location.
If your employer has failed to take corrective action, contact a Nashville-based employment lawyer to discuss your options.
If you are reading this you probably see the writing on the wall and are about to be terminated. In that case, you want to lay a solid foundation for any potential legal claims. Even if you do not end up in court, you need to have a case that a judge could find credible in order for your employer to consider settling the claim in your favor. Therefore, you should take two additional steps:Gather Documents
Gather and organize all of the documents that you can find concerning your employment, including:
- Pay stubs
- Text messages
- Audio recordings
- E-mails (including ones that show the employer’s receipt of your complaint)
- Performance evaluations
- Disciplinary warnings, reprimands, or write-ups
- Job description
- Awards, accolades, or other evidence that shows you performed well
- Attendance records
- Employee handbook, manual, or other documents describing work rules, policies, and procedures
- Pension benefits and retirement plan information, including monthly statements, including any ESOP plan materials
Do not engaged in “self-help” discovery by taking documents or accessing information to which you have no right to possess. Doing so could potentially hurt your employment law claims and expose you to legal liability. Your lawyer can obtain copies of such documents through the discovery process later, if necessary.Identify Witnesses
If you think co-workers observed the harassment, make a list of their names, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers, and include a summary of what you expect them to say (good and bad). Specific and detailed information related to unlawful harassment or retaliation is always better than general misgivings about a supervisor or work environment.