Far too often we hear from women who have been dealing with long-term sexual harassment in the workplace. Many times they have made some effort to complain, but it has been rebuffed – particularly in male dominated work environments whether it's the firehouse or the boardroom. Here are three things you should do if you are sexually harassed at work.
- Be aware of your company requirements for complaints of sexual harassment.
Nowadays most companies have employment or workplace handbooks. Typically these handbooks will lay out in some fashion the method for registering complaints of workplace sexual harassment. As an employee you need to be aware of this.
Failing to follow the harassment complaint policy can significantly hurt your efforts down the road.
A common defense that we see from employers in sexual harassment cases is that the employee “failed to take advantage of workplace complaint procedures.” This is an actual legal defense, so if your company has a policy, be sure you are aware of and follow it.
- Be sure to make your complaints in writing
This should go without saying but it often does not. When you make a complaint – and you must make a complaint, make it in writing. We have seen far too many cases of victims of sexual harassment who made verbal complaints that are no longer remembered by anyone at the company.
Even if you make a verbal complaint of sexual harassment to the right person – keep in mind that memory fades, and it is unlikely that at some point in the future that person is going to remember the specifics of what you told them about the sexual harassment. By making your complaint of sexual harassment in writing – and keeping a copy – you ensure that you have a paper trail of the specific conduct that you complained about. This may be critical at some point down the road.
- Take Action
Laws protecting victims of sexual harassment generally have very strict timelines for filing notice of potential claims and/or making complaints, and this will vary depending upon the employer. A firefighter or police officer complaining of sexual harassment, for example, may want to file a Notice of Claim with the municipality – which has a very small window. Other laws require filing a complaint with an administrative agency (the New York State Division of Human Rights or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example) prior to filing any type of sexual harassment lawsuit.
If you miss the deadline to file a claim you may forfeit any right to bring a claim down the road. We often see victims who have undergone months and even years of sexual harassment before taking action. This is common. Nevertheless, keep in mind that if you are harassed you may wish to take action sooner than later, to preserve your rights.
The three steps above are by no means exhaustive steps for a victim of sexual harassment in New York, but if you are being harassed in the workplace they are a good place to start.
If you have questions about a sexual harassment lawsuit in New York give us a call, we are always happy to help.