5 Steps to Help You Fight Back Against Sexual Harassment at Work
Both federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and state law (the Florida Civil Rights Act) prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. If you are being subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace, an experienced Tampa sexual harassment lawyer can help you stand up for your rights.
The Law Protects You from All Forms of Sexual Harassment at Work
Sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to conduct of an offensive and sexual nature that unreasonably interferes with the employee’s employment. When you hear about high profile sexual harassment cases in the media, often it is a woman being sexually harassed by a man. However, the law does not favor one gender over another. Men and women alike can be the victims and the harassers. The victim and the harasser can also be the same gender. The harasser can be a co-worker, supervisor, manager, or even someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
The law recognizes two forms of sexual harassment: Hostile Work Environment and Tangible Employment Act (a/k/a Quid Pro Quo).
(1) Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Hostile Work Environment sexual harassment occurs when the harassment is severe or persistent enough to interfere with the victim’s ability to perform his or her job and creates an abusive or intimidating working environment. The harasser’s conduct is evaluated from the objective standpoint of a reasonable person standing in the place of the victim.
(2) Tangible Employment Act/Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Tangible Employment Act, more often known as “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment, occurs when the harasser makes tangible conditions of employment contingent on the harasser receiving some form of sexual favor from the victim. Tangible conditions of employment are actions that cause a significant change in the working environment, such as: promotions, hiring/firing, bonuses, shift or work assignments, salary increases, favorable performance reviews, etc.
Steps to Take if You Are Being Sexually Harassed
It is your right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment. If you are being sexually harassed:
(1) Tell the harasser the conduct is unwelcome. A key factor in any sexual harassment case is that the conduct must be unwelcome. It is important, too, that the harasser know that the conduct is not appropriate or acceptable to you. Often, victims of sexual harassment respond to the harassing conduct by laughing it off, out of embarrassment or fear of retaliation for not “playing along.” Some victims cope with the harassment by pretending it’s not happening and ignoring or avoiding the harasser. These are understandable responses, but an employer could potentially use these types of reactions against you. Therefore, even though it can be difficult, you must do your best to communicate to your harasser, in no uncertain terms, that you do not like the conduct and you want it to stop immediately.
(2) Follow your employer’s complaint procedure for reporting sexual harassment. In certain instances, you may lose the right to bring a sexual harassment claim if your employer has a sexual harassment complaint procedure in place and you fail to follow it. A sexual harassment complaint procedure may be found in your employee handbook or posted in the common areas of the workplace, such as a cafeteria or break room. If your employer has such a policy, follow the procedures and document your efforts to do so. If your employer does not have a sexual harassment complaint procedure, then you should notify your supervisor and/or Human Resources promptly. Make sure you put your complaints in writing (especially email) so that you have proof that you have complained.
(3) Cooperate with any internal investigation. Your employer likely will conduct an internal investigation of your complaint of sexual harassment. You should cooperate with this investigation, but remember that, in this situation, your employer is not your friend. The investigator’s primary goal is to keep the company from being held legally responsible for the alleged harassment. He or she is not looking out for your best interests. Do not let the investigator try to minimize what happened to you or dissuade you from pursuing a claim and asserting your right to a workplace free from sexual harassment.
(4) Keep a journal. Keep a journal or diary of all of the harassing conduct you experience in the workplace. Be as specific as possible in recording what happened, including the date/time of the incident; the nature of the conduct; and the names of any witnesses to the harassment. In a hostile work environment sexual harassment case, it is important to prove that the harassment was severe or pervasive. If you have a contemporaneous written record of many incidents of harassment occurring over a period of time, this will help you prove your claim. This is especially true if, as often happens, there are no witnesses to the harassment and your case becomes a “he said/she said” credibility battle.
(5) Speak to an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment. As sexual harassment law has evolved over time, it has become more and more complicated; strict deadlines and procedures must be followed before you may file a claim for sexual harassment in court. An experienced Tampa sexual harassment lawyer can assess your situation and advise you of the best way to assert your legal rights, while protecting your dignity. Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation. You can reach Florin Gray at 727-220-4000, do an live chat, enter a web inquiry or email us.