Bad bosses. Sleazy coworkers. Unsafe predicaments. Between 25% to 85% of women in the workplace say they have been sexually harassed, depending on who is asked and what definition of harassment is used. 37% of men reported experiencing some level of sexual harassment. But only 54% of those harassed report the harassment. So, what should you do if you are sexually harassed at work?
The first step is trying to determine if you have a basis for making a complaint. The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Isolated incidents, that are not very serious, may not give rise to a claim. But if the harassment is severe or frequent it may create a hostile work environment. You may make a claim based on hostile work environment. If the harassment is “quid pro quo” (this for that), meaning it is tied to a promotion or termination, then it may also form the basis of a claim. And the harassment may come from almost anyone associated with the workplace – supervisor, coworker, or client.
What to do if you are sexually harassed at work
1. Make an Internal Complaint
If you think you have experienced sexual harassment, the first step is to report the harassment within the company. Employers are required to have policies and procedures to “effectively prevent and correct harassment.” In large companies, this probably means having written policies in place. In smaller companies, the issue might be addressed at a meeting or through regular contact between supervisors and employees discussing it. Either way, the company should conduct an impartial investigation of any complaint and take corrective action. Many times, these internal complaints, however, do not resolve the problem.
2. Make an EEOC Claim.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency charged with investigating worker’s complaints of discrimination and harassment. Making a claim with the EEOC is simple and the forms are available online. After a claim is filed, an EEOC worker might contact you for more information. The EEOC is supposed to investigate the claim and make a determination. However, the EEOC does not always respond promptly. In some cases, you may be better off skipping the investigation and asking for the EEOC to complete its file by issuing a “Right to Sue” letter. Workers must have this “Right to Sue” letter before filing most claims of discrimination or harassment.
3. File a Lawsuit.
After trying the internal route and the EEOC, if there is still no resolution for the complaint of being sexually harassed at work, a lawyer can help you file a lawsuit against your employer. There are several different federal and state laws that outline the various types of relief available to workers. A lawyer will be able to help you sort out what needs to be said on your behalf.
What About Retaliation for Making a Claim for Being Sexually Harassed at Work?
An employee’s claim to protect their rights is itself “protected activity.” This means that it is illegal for an employer to retaliate in any way. An employer cannot demote, fire, give less desirable work hours or assignments, or alter the employment relationship due to the employee’s claim. Given the statistics, you should almost expect retaliation to occur – it is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in claims to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — nearly half of the approximately 90,000 EEOC charges filed in FY 2016 alleged retaliation. About 75% of women making a claim experience retaliation.
But sexual harassment will not stop if victims of harassment are not brave enough to come forward with their claims. If retaliation does occur, it may be included as one of the claims in a lawsuit.
Don’t Blow Your Time Limits
The deadline for filing a claim with the EEOC in Oklahoma is 300 days from the last event – the last time of harassment. However, the worker is in a much stronger position to make a claim for everything that has happened to her or him if the claim is filed within 300 days of the first event. So do not wait.
Once the EEOC has issued the “Right to Sue” letter, then the worker has 90 days from that date to get a lawsuit on file. Since good lawyers like to be prepared before filing a lawsuit, you should ideally consult with a lawyer well before that time.
Koller Trial Law is dedicated to helping victims of sexual harassment, including in the workplace. If you, or someone you know, is being sexually harassed at work, contact us. We can help you sort out whether you have a claim and help you through the reporting process. Our consultations are completely confidential so it is a safe call to make.