This legal guide covers steps employees can take to protect themselves when being sexually harassed at work.
Speak to an Attorney at the Earliest Possible Moment
The most important step in making sure all of your legal rights are protected when you are sexually harassed at work is to speak to an attorney immediately. It is best to have the advice of an attorney before making any moves. For example, if you speak with your employer about your sexual harassment situation, participate in an investigation or are asked to write a statement, you may be walking into a trap because the employer usually has an attorney and is working to protect itself from a lawsuit and doing all it can to hurt your case--not to protect you. Most employers do not care about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace; most of their efforts are put towards defeating sexual harassment lawsuits. Their goal is usually to get you to say things or do things that could hurt you later in a lawsuit. The best advice is to have an attorney helping your from the beginning to make sure that this does not happen.
Keep a Detailed Journal of All the Sexual Harassment, Including Dates, Times, and Witnesses
There is no better evidence in Court, a hearing, or a settlement conference than a journal documenting the severity and/or frequency of the sexual harassment. Memories fade and specifics are often hard to provide by the time a case goes to trial or for settlement a year later, but if you keep a journal with dates of everything that happened, it is very strong evidence that the employer will have a hard time rebutting. It is also important to try to list every witness to each occurrence and provide as much detail as possible. This can be invaluable information for your attorney.
Your journal should also account for all forms of sexual harassment, regardless of how subtle. Many sexual harassers have subtle ways of walking by their victims and "accidentally" brushing up against their private areas. This is many times not an accident and you should document it. Other subtle forms of harassment include stares by the harasser at the victim's private areas and innuendos.
Document Any Retaliation That Occurs After You Refuse Sexual Advances or Complain of Sexual Harassment
Harassers and employers will often times retaliate against an employee reporting harassment by demoting the employee, cutting the employee's hours, or just plain being as hostile as possible, hoping the employee resigns. It is important to keep a journal with dates and witnesses of any adverse consequences you suffer as a result of refusing a harasser's advances or reporting sexual harassment.
How to Report Sexual Harassment to Your Employer
Make sure the employer's receipt of your reports is well documented; certified mail is often a great tool. Employers will often pretend they knew nothing about what was going on. Also make sure the report is made to enough of the executives and/or "higher-ups" in the company, so that they cannot claim they did not receive the complaint.
Only Use Your Work Issues E-Mail Address for Work-Related Matters
In many cases, the employer is allowed to go through and copy all of the email you have ever sent using the employer's email address. This can give the employer access to plenty of information that can be used against you in the case. The emails may show displeasure with the job, comments you made about others that are less than flattering, information that is embarrassing if publicized in a lawsuit, and almost anything else that could conceivably be used against you in a lawsuit. You do not want this information out there and used against you. It is best to limit your use of work email for work-related purposes and keep personal communications to your personal email.
Be Careful About What You Put on the Internet (Facebook, etc.)
Many times, the employers will try to show that the employee was "unchaste" or "very flirtatious" based on things they find online. Make sure your social networking pages do not give the employer any unnecessary ammunition.