Sexual harassment, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other verbal or physical harassment in the workplace that is sexual in nature. Whether the victim is an employee or an applicant, they have the legal right not to be harassed based on their sex. Sexual harassment can cause negative outcomes like creating a hostile work environment and interfering with the victim’s work performance.
Women and men are understandably hesitant to report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation such as termination, demotion, negative performance reviews, or transfer to a less desirable department or location. In a 2015 survey conducted by Cosmopolitan, one in three women reported that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace. They also found that:
- 38% of respondents said the harassment came from a male boss
- More than 70% of victims did not report their abuse
Unfortunately, it can be very hard to win a sexual harassment case, says Steven M. Rubin of Rubin Law Corporation – Sexual Harassment Lawyer in Los Angeles. You will need solid legal advice as well as strong evidence. Despite that, you should speak up. People who commit sexual harassment are hoping to gain power over their victims, but an attorney can advise you of your rights under the law and help you if you face retaliation. Here are some steps you should take if you are being harassed in the workplace.
Write down or gather:
- Comments or times when you were treated differently or discriminated against based on your sex or gender identity. Be sure to write down the date, time, and place where it happened and if there were any witnesses. However, harassers usually plan ahead so that nobody catches them in the act.
- Copies or screenshots of texts, emails, or physical notes the harasser sent you. Do not keep digital copies on a computer that could crash. Print them out and provide them to your attorney.
- Document any quid pro quo offers, such as being offered a promotion only if you go on a date with your boss. Note the day, time, where it was said, what was said or done, and who was around. Also, write down if they threaten you if you reject them.
It’s important not to keep your evidence at work. You never know when your employer may retaliate against you, and you could lose access to your emails and other documents. Take your documents home and store them in a safe place.
You must report sexual harassment before you can sue, according to the Supreme Court. Before you can proceed, you must give your employer a chance to respond to the situation and correct it. But your employer is also not required to fire your harasser unless what they have done is described in your company handbook as an offense that is grounds for termination. Otherwise, your employer is only required to make the harassment stop.
First, find out your company’s sexual harassment policy and follow it by reporting to the designated person. You can report the harassment to another person if your harasser is the designated person. It’s best to report in writing, but if you report verbally, then follow up in writing. You can compose an email to confirm your conversation at the date and time you had it, who you made your report about, and list the instances of sexual harassment.
If the harassment doesn’t stop or the harasser retaliates, the company can become liable for not stopping the action. In fact, you are legally protected from retaliation and discrimination. You should file a complaint with the EEOC if you have already filed your complaint with your employer and your employer didn’t take action to correct it.
Each state’s employment laws are different, and sexual harassment cases are very hard to win because it’s usually one person’s word over another. An employment attorney in your state with years of experience can help you through your harassment case, including gathering documentation and filing your claim with the EEOC. They can advise you of your rights under the law and what legal options are available to you.
Most importantly, a lawyer can give you peace of mind during this difficult time. You worked hard to get the job you have, and you shouldn’t have to consider leaving or face retaliation for standing up to sexual harassment.