An employee may make a sexual harassment charge when unwelcome, offensive sexual behavior adversely affects his or her job. The employer is liable for the charge if the employee reports the sexual harassment charge to the employer. An employee may also file a sexual harassment charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or related state agency if a sexual harassment law was violated.

Investigating sexual harassment charges

Employers take charges of sexual harassment very seriously. Many provide a complaint process for reporting and preventing sexual harassment from continuing. Most processes require employers to take the following steps once a charge of sexual harassment is made:

Separate the parties. An employer may make schedule changes or transfer the accused harasser to another department to prevent further acts.

Launch a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation. Importantly, the harasser should not be in charge of or involved with the investigation. All information collected should remain confidential.

Interview parties and witnesses. The victim, accused harasser, and any witnesses may be asked questions about the charge and why one or the other party may be lying.

Reach a determination. The employer looks at all the facts to reach a determination, including the employees' past records.

Take action. The employer may discipline the harasser if he or she is found guilty. Discipline may include counseling or dismissal, depending on the seriousness of the offense. The employer may not retaliate against the accusing party under any circumstances.

Federal sexual harassment charges

If an employee files a charge with the EEOC, the agency launches its own investigation. The EEOC examines the circumstances of the harassment, the nature of the conduct, and the context in which the conduct occurred. If the EEOC rules that sexual harassment did take place, and an employer shows that corrective action has been taken, the employer may not be liable. If the harassment was allowed to continue, an employer may be required to pay damages or face other remedial action.

If you face sexual harassment charges

Some courts don't find individual employees liable for sexual harassment under Title VII. Other courts do. If you are tried for sexual harassment, your employer may provide for your legal defense, but may recover expenses if the court rules against you.

It's important to answer all questions and keep your responses factual during any sexual harassment investigation. You must also not retaliate against your accuser in any way.

Although it's not required, you may want to talk to a lawyer before you participate in an investigation. Some companies have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and may impose discipline even if the behavior doesn't violate a policy or law. Your lawyer can help determine your legal remedies should your employer take action against you.

Additional resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment

Workplace Fairness: Sexual Harassment - Legal Rights

Related Legal Guides:

Sexual Harassment Laws

Sexual Harassment Termination

Penalties for Sexual Harassment