Have you been subjected to a hostile work environment due to repeated advances, inappropriate comments, sexually explicit material, off-color jokes or other unwelcome sexually-charged language or behavior? Has a supervisor or co-worker offered better pay, promotion or other career benefits in exchange for sexual favors? Did someone you work with threaten your position or work-related duties in retaliation for spurned advances? If you have dealt with any of these issues, you have been sexually harassed.
Experiencing sexually harassing behavior at work is unacceptable. No one should have to put up with it. Thankfully, the prevailing attitude in the workforce and society, at-large, in the U.S., is moving toward zero tolerance for this inexcusable conduct. Equally important, is the fact that there are federal and state laws that prohibit this behavior and provide relief from this harassment. Understanding this and recognizing this behavior as sexual harassment is the first step, but what should you do next?
Initial Steps – Demand that the Behavior Stop
The people you work with should be aware of the laws prohibiting sexual harassment, and it’s unfair that you must be placed in the position of defending yourself against this behavior. Unfortunately, the reality is that many perpetrators carry on with unlawful sexual harassment even when they know they’re in the wrong. In some cases, though, the harasser may truly not realize that what they’re doing is prohibited.
No matter what the situation, informing your harasser that their advances, comments or physical contact is unwelcome, and demanding that they stop, may be enough to halt the offending behavior. Putting your objections in writing helps to ensure that they get the message, helps prevent misunderstandings, and provides proof of your clearly stated objections if the situation escalates. The best way to accomplish all these objectives is to email the offending worker, client or vendor via your company’s email account. It also provides documentation, which will be important if you need to file a claim or a lawsuit. In your email, explain the situation and behavior that made you uncomfortable, the time and date, and where the event occurred. Most importantly, tell the offender that you want them to stop.
Document Your Sexual Harassment
While it may be difficult to think in terms of dry documentation while experiencing the emotions that accompany sexual harassment, it’s an important step in substantiating your claim. If a manager, supervisor, co-worker, client or vendor is making inappropriate advances or comments or touching you in a manner that makes you uncomfortable, documenting these actions is essential.
Initially, formal documentation isn’t a requirement. It’s enough to simply take detailed notes in a phone app, Word doc or even a notebook. Track how often the incidents happen by calendaring the occurrences. This helps to establish whether it’s a pattern of conduct or isolated episodes. Be sure to note the dates, specifics about the behavior, what each of you said and did and whether there were any witnesses.
In many cases, the harassment includes texts, emails, or social media posts and direct messages (DMs). Save copies of all this correspondence. You must also save the email that you send the offending party identifying the harassment and directing your harasser to cease the offending behavior. If they continue, you will need to move forward with a formal complaint. Keep records of all the steps you take during that process, as well.
Follow Established Company Policy and Report the Harasser
Educate yourself or refresh your memory on your company’s grievance and complaint policies. They may have a specific discrimination/harassment policy in place or merely a general grievance procedure. These are typically available in your employee manual or handbook.
Usually, you’ll be directed to report your complaint to a supervisor or HR personnel. If the offender holds the position of the person you’re supposed to report the harassment to, bypass them and go to someone higher up with decision-making authority. Bring your notes along with you. Document all meetings – include dates, who you spoke with, what you discussed, and what actions if any they promised to take.
Cooperate with Your Employer’s Investigation and Resolution Process
The law gives your employer the opportunity to correct the situation. This may involve an internal investigation, including questionnaires, requests for documentation, and interviews with all involved parties and any potential witnesses. Some companies offer mediation or arbitration to help resolve the issue. Be cooperative and engage in the process, but continue documenting everything.
Timely reporting is essential. If your employer delays action, won’t address your claim, is lax about following through, or otherwise fails you in stopping the harassment, you’ll need to move on to a filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You have 180 days from the last date of experiencing the sexual harassment to file an EEOC claim. So, while it’s important to be cooperative, don’t hesitate to move forward with this filing if your employer is using extensive stalling tactics.
File an Action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The hope is that your employer nips the problem in the bud, quickly and effectively. If this doesn’t happen, it’s time to involve the EEOC or the applicable state-level office in your jurisdiction. The Division on Civil Rights (DCR) in the Office of the Attorney General for New Jersey is the state agency where you’ll file your claim in the Garden State.
The legal guidance of an experienced New Jersey Sexual Harassment Attorney can help you file your claim and complete your paperwork accurately with all the important facts and details. This legal counsel also ensures that you pursue all the options available to you under the law. This is key if DRC issues you a right to sue letter, allowing you to pursue your case in court.
With a civil lawsuit, you can pursue various damages and restitution for your losses. Some examples include:
- Job or Job position reinstatement, when applicable
- Treble monetary damages for lost pay or a missed raise
- Reinstatement of lost benefits — like pension, retirement, sick pay, profit sharing, vacation pay, bonuses, commission, and tips
- Damage for mental anguish and emotional distress
- Compensation for therapy expenses
- Punitive damages
- A court order requiring your employer to provide sexual harassment training or initiate policies to prevent harassment
- Attorney fees and costs
Your lawyer can help you determine what your claim may be worth, and which damages you are eligible to pursue.
Sexual harassment often has a mental and emotional impact on the survivor. If you’re experiencing these issues, seek therapy or counseling to help you cope and regain a feeling of power and control over yourself and your body. Be kind to yourself. Reach out to friends and family members for valuable support.
You should also be realistic about your expectations. Despite recent advancements in addressing and stopping sexual harassment in the workplace more proactively, many employers remain behind the times. Denials, disbelief, scorn, ignoring the problem, and retaliation are all potential outcomes of reporting the harassment. Stay strong. Your notes and other documentation can help back up your claim. And remember, the law is on your side.
Contact Castronovo & McKinney Employment Attorneys
If you have questions about a sexual harassment issue in your workplace or need assistance filing your claim, contact our firm to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation. We can review your case, explain your rights and help you determine the best course of action. Don’t forget, timely filing is essential. So, don’t hesitate to take action and assert the legal rights and protections available to you.