Sexual harassment is one of the most common and difficult workplace issues to navigate, especially when the harasser is your boss. You want to report the behavior, but you are afraid of being fired or 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 written complaint. Reporting the conduct in writing is one of the most important steps. You can use work e-mail but include relevant dates and immediately print off a copy for your records. 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. 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, contact Moosbrugger Law immediately to discuss your options.
I Submitted a Complaint – What Now?
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 investigating 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 Moosbrugger Law to discuss your options.
If you are reading this, you may believe that you are about to be terminated. In that case, you want to lay a solid foundation for any potential legal claims you may have against your employer. Even if you do not end up in court, you need to have a case that a judge could find credible for your employer to consider settling the claim in your favor. Therefore, you should take two additional steps:
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 engage in additional 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.
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.