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What Should You do if You Believe You Are a Victim of Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment on the job can be very traumatic. You may be unsure what to do, but there are laws that protect you. There are some gray areas, however, and it is not always easy to prove. If you think you are or have been, a victim you should contact a sexual harassment lawyer in California as soon as possible.

What is sexual harassment?

There are many forms of harassment. When someone makes an unwanted sexual advance, that is harassment. This can take many forms beyond anything physical or violent. It can include unwanted touching and spoken innuendos. 

It is also sexual harassment if you are asked to provide sexual favors in exchange for promotions, career moves, or anything else at work. Online communication of an unwanted sexual nature could also be considered harassment, as well as any things fellow employees might do when not at work. Another type of sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment. This includes things like unwanted touching and can include a suggestive talk and even asking for sexual favors. Either one of those things can be considered sexual harassment, and they are illegal.

In California, the basis for the law is Title IV of the civil rights act which prohibits workplace discrimination based on sex and many other things California used that, and sexual harassment also violates the state’s fair employment and housing act.

Even with laws, and the current climate of the #MeToo movement, it is still hard to define sexual harassment. Sometimes it is obvious, but in other times it is not. If you are being made uncomfortable at work and nothing is being done to stop it, you should contact an attorney to discuss your case.

What to do

It may seem obvious, but the first thing to do is to tell the person their behavior is bothering you. It is possible they are not doing whatever it is intentionally, and that will stop it. Even if it is intentional, you must still let them know, so they cannot claim they didn’t know they were bothering you. You must be very specific about what the behavior is that is bothering you. It is also helpful from a legal aspect if you can document when you told the person to stop the behavior, and if you had to tell them more than one time.

If that does not stop the behavior immediately, begin documenting everything that happens. Realize your company may be monitoring you. It is a good idea to keep notes and records on your own personal equipment rather than on a company computer. Even if you are hesitant to report it because of fear of retaliation, you should still keep notes to document everything that happens. Be sure to record times and dates in all your notes.

Here are some ways to keep records.

  • Record date time and place and what happened.
  • Keep copies of any harassing emails, texts, or photos.
  • Tell a trusted person what happened and keep a record of that conversation.
  • Keep records of what you do at work in case your work is ever questioned.
  • Keep documents away from the workplace.
  • If you record conversations, check on the legality as secretly recording conversations may be illegal.

If telling the person does not work, you may consider putting it in writing and giving that to them. At this point, you should report the behavior to your supervisor. If the supervisor is the one doing the harassing, you will have to report it to that person’s supervisor. When you report it be certain to have specific information about times dates and specific behaviors. Many companies have a grievance procedure, and if your company does, follow that carefully.

It is also important to know what you want to happen and to understand your company’s culture.

Do you want the person fired, or do you just want it to stop and move to another department? Your answer will determine what course of action you take. Does your company take this sort of thing seriously?  Find out what your company’s policies are and keep records.

Seek others that can help you through this hard emotional time. Whether it be family members, coworkers, or other people who have been harassed, support each other. If there is a group, you can come forward together which makes it harder for a company to dismiss.

Some companies say to report it to human resources, and if they do, that is what you will have to do. What you tell them should remain confidential, but that does not always happen. Being aware of this could have an impact on what you tell them.

Don’t quit your job. If you feel your complaint is getting nowhere, contact a lawyer to discuss your situation. From there you can plan a course of action. If you quit your employer could argue that you did not give it enough time to work. It will also be harder to sue for lost wages if you have quit your job. It is your employer’s responsibility to provide a safe working environment.  You should also keep doing your job as well as you can. Don’t give the employer an excuse to fire you or any ammunition to use against you if you go to court.

Keep in mind that retaliation is illegal. Sometimes employers punish people who report issues or complaints. This is illegal, and often easier to prove than harassment. Any adverse action against you after filing a complaint could be considered retaliation. This is another reason to not quit the job and to continue to do a good job at work. Adverse actions could be a sudden bad performance review, a demotion, a cut in pay, or a transfer to a less desirable job.  Often companies, or individual supervisors, will take adverse action against an employee who is reporting issues to make them be quiet.

Try to go through the channels at work if you are being made uncomfortable, or feel you are being sexually harassed. Ask the person to stop, then report it to the supervisor, and keep going up the ladder. All the while continue to do your job to the best of your ability and keep detailed records of everything that happens. Harassment is not always easy to prove, but the more records you have the better chance you will have. When you have done all you can do, and the harassment continues, it is time to take legal action. Contact a sexual harassment lawyer and discuss your situation. The initial consultation is free, and a good way to find out what your legal options are.

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