The first step to prepare for a workplace sexual harassment case is to hire an experienced employment lawyer. Sexual harassment is serious workplace issue and should not be taken lightly. Most individuals are not familiar with the types of sexual harassment that exist.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as harassment of an individual, whether an employee or an applicant, based on the individual’s sex. Behaviors that are considered sexual harassment may include unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and/or other physical and/or verbal behavior of a sexual nature.
There are other, less obvious, behaviors that may be constitute sexual harassment. These may include offensive remarks about an individual’s sex. In general, however, it takes more than one isolated statement and/or incident to be considered sexual harassment.
There are three main types of sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo;
- Hostile work environment; and
- Non-direct sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a higher ranking employee requests a sexual favor from a lower ranking employee in exchange for a benefit and/or perk in the workplace, such as extra pay.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an individual’s repeated unwelcome advances and/or threats cause a hostile work environment that impacts the employee’s work performance and/or attendance.
Non-direct sexual harassment occurs when a third party, who is not the intended victim of the harassment, overhears and/or observes the harassment.
It is important to note that any individual of any gender can be a perpetrator of sexual harassment. Similarly, any individual of any gender may be a victim of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may even occur been individuals of the same sex.
A perpetrator of sexual harassment may be a supervisor, a coworker, or even a non-employee. A non-employee may include:
- Customers; and/or
- Others who work with, but not for, the employer.
In some cases, an individual may not even realize they are being sexually harassed at work or the extent to which the issue has progressed. For those reasons, sexual harassment will be discussed below so that an individual can alert their attorney if these instances have occurred.
The first step to avoiding sexual harassment is education is to be aware of interactions with coworkers and classmates. A false sexual harassment claim can be as damaging to an individual as a genuine claim. Becoming aware of the process, regulations, and the escalation procedures is beneficial for an individual who believes they are being sexually harassed in the workplace.
Both the federal government and the majority of state governments have enacted statutes and regulations protecting employees from workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable. It is not the employee’s sole responsibility to accept the harassment and/or attempt to stop it themselves.
There are certain steps an employee is required to take when they have been the victim of sexual harassment. It is important to note that sexual harassment does not have to result in a tangible employment action such as termination or an economic injury in order for an individual to take action.
What Documentation and Questions Should I Compile Before I Meet with My Sexual Harassment Attorney?
It is important to gather any relevant documents and compile a list of questions prior to a consultation. Proof in sexual harassment cases may be based largely on evidence, such as text messages, emails, or recordings if they are available. It is important to bring any evidence and/or documentation of the harassment to the consultation so an attorney can evaluate it.
It is important to think of any questions an individual has about their case prior to their consultation so the attorney can answer them. No question is ridiculous and an attorney will be glad to address any concerns their client has regarding their case. Some questions an individual may have include:
- What options for taking action are available?
- How will this case affect my employment?
- What types of behavior need to be documented?; and
- Any other questions an individual may have.
What Makes a Sexual Harassment Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
As noted above, a strong sexual harassment case can be made by an attorney who is familiar with the process and the required evidence. In some cases, an individual may need to gather more evidence to make a stronger case. This is not to say that a case cannot be made without evidence, it is just made stronger.
Any legal case is made stronger by examining defenses the other side may present in order to prepare for them. The accused will present a defense in an attempt to lessen the penalties they will receive and/or even attempt to have the case dismissed.
Common defenses may include:
- Evidence that shows the victim’s claims are false;
- The behavior did not rise to the standard of sexual harassment specified under the law;
- The victim did not follow proper protocol, including filing with the EEOC;
- The EEOC report failed to find any evidence during their investigation, for example, repeated patterns of conduct; and/or
- The defendant is not the person responsible for the harassing behavior that occurred.
An attorney will be aware of these and many other defenses the other side may attempt to present. The attorney will also know how to present a case against these defenses, therefore increasing the victim’s chances of prevailing compared to trying to present their case themselves.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts for Workplace Sexual Harassment Cases?
Some “do’s” for workplace sexual harassment cases include:
- Do: Hire an attorney. As noted above, an attorney can assist with any and all aspects of the case, including providing advice on the employer’s process for complaints.
- Do: Document, document, and document some more. A harasser, if unchecked, is likely to continue harassing. An attorney can advise you on the best ways to document the behavior.
- Do: Follow the employer’s policies on filing a sexual harassment claim. It may be frustrating to start in the place where the harassment is occurring, but this will ensure your case will be strong if the harassment continues.
Some “don’ts” for workplace sexual harassment cases include:
- Don’t: Handle it alone. Sexual harassment can make you feel alone and powerless. Having an attorney on your side will not only increase your chances of stopping the harassment, it will ensure someone is on your side.
- Don’t: Retaliate. You are the victim. Trust in the process and your attorney and follow through with your claim against the harasser.
- Don’t: Be afraid to stand up for yourself and say no and walk away from the harasser. No explanation is required. If you are being harassed, say no if you need to and simply walk away. You are not required to hang around and take it.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Sexual Harassment Attorney?
You absolutely need to contact an harassment lawyer if you have experienced any type of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is essential to contact the attorney as soon as possible. The closer to the actual harassment the claim is filed, the better the chances are it will be successful.
Even if your employer has a process for sexual harassment claims, an attorney can assist you from the outset to make sure your claim is recognized. An attorney will also be able to provide guidance if you are required to file a claim with the EEOC. They will have the experience and knowledge to assist you in building a case that will end inappropriate or unlawful conduct directed towards you at your workplace.