What to Do if You Are a Victim of Sexual Harassment at Work
- Document the unwanted conduct any way you can, but first understand the two types of actionable sexual harassment in the workplace: hostile environment and quid pro quo. Get the evidence, safe-keep the evidence and get it to a lawyer for review. The law is clear that employers have responsibilities to remove sexual harassment from the workplace. Sexual harassment cannot be ignored by the employer.
- Get a copy of your employer’s sexual harassment policy. Determine who your employer has designated to receive complaints of sexual harassment. You need to determine if your company has a policy regarding sexual harassment. But, regardless of whether your employer has such a policy, your employer in Ohio has obligations to provide a workplace that is free from sexual harassment both under state and federal law.
- Report the unwanted sexual advances, the unwelcomed sexual conduct or the quid pro quo (this-for-that) conduct, but what you tell your employer at this stage will become part of a permanent record and what you say can be used against you. For instance, if you tell your employer that the conduct really did not bother you, your employer will likely conclude that the harassment did not affect your ability to perform your work functions, which can be a legal requirement for bringing a claim. Obviously, it is best not to downplay what you have experienced nor to exaggerate the conduct. It is best to seek legal advice before you make the complaint to the designated person to receive the complaint, but any report to the employer should be in writing and you should keep a copy of any report of sexual harassment. If the harasser is the owner of the company or upper level management, it is especially important to talk to a lawyer to come up with a strategy for the next step. Most importantly, keep in mind that your employer cannot retaliate against you for reporting sexual discrimination in the workplace, which is deemed protected activity.
- Get an experienced employment rights lawyer earlier rather than later. A little advice can sometimes go a long way at an early stage. A successful outcome is more likely if the correct steps are taken at the beginning.
- Should you quit your job? The answer is that you need to do what you feel is right for you under the circumstances — but keep in mind that you have a legal right to go to work and do your job without being subjected to sexual harassment, no matter how small or large your employer is. If you are planning a departure, it is usually easier to find a new job if you are already employed because this eliminates a lot of questions with a prospective employer. It can be difficult to prove that no reasonable person would have continued their employment under the circumstances, which could be at issue in your legal claim. But you have to always protect your own personal safety and do what you feel is best under the circumstances. Consulting with an experienced employment attorney is especially important if you are planning to quit your job in response to sexual harassment.
- Should you file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Ohio Civil Rights Commission? It is your legal right to file what is referred to as an administrative charge with one of these agencies. It is a requirement in some jurisdictions, but not in Ohio. Again, once you put in writing a charge of discrimination, this becomes your statement and a permanent record that your employer will see. Whether to file a charge is an important decision that should be made with the assistance of experienced legal counsel. Although you do not need an attorney to file an administrative charge, you still have the right to hire an attorney during the processing of the administrative charge or after such process is over.
- What should I do if I am retaliated against because I complained of sexual harassment in the workplace? Everyone has a general sense of what seems to be retaliation, but what is actionable retaliation — that is, retaliation that is against the law — is a more complex matter. There is no question that your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you because you reported sexual harassment in the workplace. If you feel that you have been retaliated against or are subjected to continuing retaliation, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.