Los Angeles, CA (Law Firm Newswire) May 24, 2019 – Sexual harassment affects an alarming number of people and often goes unreported. Many victims of sexual harassment try to ignore the offensive behavior, perhaps because they are worried about retaliation by their employer or discomfort in confronting the harasser.
No one should have to endure sexual harassment at their job. Everyone deserves to work in an environment that is free from harm. Sexual harassment is unacceptable, but when it happens, there are some steps to take to effectively handle the situation.
Recognize Sexual Harassment
There are two broad categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor demands sexual favors or sexual contact in return for a job benefit, such as continued employment, raise, or promotion. A hostile work environment occurs when a coworker or supervisor make unwanted sexual advances, comments and requests. Examples include unwanted touching, sexual jokes or comments, and requests for sexual favors. In order to be legally actionable in California, sexual harassment must be either severe or pervasive. This means generally that one instance of sexual harassment can be enough to meet the standard if it is egregious or severe. Otherwise, the harassment must be pervasive, usually consisting of repeated instances impacting an individual’s workspace. Sexual harassment only occurs if the behavior is unwelcomed by the victim.
Sexual harassment can also include harassment based on gender, sexuality, pregnancy or a related condition such as breastfeeding and can be perpetrated by a third party such as a client, customer or outside service provider.
“Many victims of sexual harassment question whether or not what they are experiencing is indeed sexual harassment or if it is bad enough to warrant a complaint,” says Betsy Havens, Executive Director at Strong Advocates, an employment law firm in Los Angeles. “However, if something feels wrong, it probably is. Trust your gut and educate yourself on what to do next.”
Speak Up in Writing
Confront the harasser if it is safe to do so. Simply saying that a conversation or action is uncomfortable and asking for it to stop may be enough. However, if the harassment continues or a victim feels unsafe confronting the harasser, it is best to write or speak to a supervisor or human resources employee about the situation. This is important, because once the employer knows about the harassment, they are legally obligated to address it.
We highly recommend making a sexual harassment complaint to a supervisor or human resources staff in writing. This could be done, for instance, via email or a letter either as an initial complaint or as a follow up to a conversation. For instance, an email following a conversation could begin by saying, “As we discussed today, I have been having difficulty with Sam making inappropriate sexual comments to me and regularly touching my butt at work…” Having a complaint in writing helps to protect victims because the employer cannot later deny that they were unaware that a complaint about sexual harassment was made.
Save Any Evidence of Sexual Harassment
Sometimes supervisors or coworkers will put their sexual advances in writing. For instance, someone may email or text message about their desire or proposed dates. Be sure to save these emails, text messages or other writings. Written advances by a coworker on a work phone or email account should be printed or forwarded to a personal account for safekeeping. If any sexual advances were made through text messages on a personal phone, we recommend victims take screenshots or email them to themselves. Text messages, emails, instant messages and snapchats can all be strong direct evidence of sexual harassment, so make sure to keep them safe in case of need for them in the future.
Tell Others and Take Notes
Document everything. Take notes on when each incident occurs, who is involved, what happens, etc. Include information on possible witnesses or other victims and be detailed, as this could become key information. Tell others about what is happening when it is happening, especially in writing. For example, text messages that were sent to a friend immediately after a sexual assault or sexual harassment has occurred can be used as evidence to support a claim.
Talk to an Experienced Attorney
If sexual harassment continues, even after the above steps are taken, it may be time to speak with an attorney. Strong Advocates can help sexual harassment victims understand their legal options and how best to pursue them. Contact Strong Advocates for a free case evaluation. For additional information on sexual harassment at work, see Strong Advocate’s e-book available for free download here.
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Kathleen Houlihan is a leader in workforce innovation and she is the Founder of an agency that reimagines talent acquisition and optimizes the system for candidates and employers. Her company, Dream2Career, provides human-centric ROI solutions that filter-in candidates who exceed expectations in the workplace.