How to Report Sexual Harassment
In the flood of sexual harassment reports over the past few months, one question has been popping up all the time: Why didn’t the victims report at that time? Well, for a number of reasons: they didn’t think they’d be believed, or they didn’t think it was “bad enough” to justify an HR complaint, or they thought being outspoken would torpedo their careers. But of all the people who have ever been persecuted in the world, there are definitely a large number of people who simply did not know how to communicate – what steps to take, how to document, and to whom they should direct their grievances. …
We recently wrote about how to find out about sexual harassment when you see it . Not every sexual harassment case is a naked penis or a boss masturbating into a plant – jokes, comments, and inappropriate behavior can create a “hostile environment” that can affect a victim’s ability to do their job – and advance professionally – peacefully. And the problem is exacerbated in industries that do not have an official HR department, such as the film business.
So, what should you do when a coworker or boss jokes for the first time, or writes you inappropriate questions in the middle of the night, or even grabs you or lets you pass at a holiday party? We spoke to two employment lawyers for advice.
Evaluate the options available in your workplace
Eric Bachman, an employment attorney at Zuckerman Law who handles sexual harassment and discrimination cases behind glass ceilings, tells me that options essentially range from an easy drop to legal action. “On the one hand, this is a conversation with the stalker, which makes it clear that you do not appreciate his comments / actions, and asks them to stop. Sometimes that will be enough and the persecution will stop, ”he said via email. This, of course, is the ideal way out of an unpleasant situation, provided that the attacker does not then respond (openly or more subtly). But if the persecution continues, says Bachman, “this is where it is important to file a complaint internally and in writing.”
If your company has an established protocol on how to report (check your employee manual), you should of course follow these guidelines. “If your company lacks a policy, you can, for example, talk to a higher-level executive, HR and / or board of directors,” says Bachman. “Again, it is usually best to file these escalating complaints in writing so that there is no misunderstanding (both when filing a complaint and later). Be sure to explain in detail what is happening, how it affects you and your work, and what you want it to stop immediately. “
Take notes on your own computer
Keep your own written record of dates, what happened, and any attempts you made to stop the persecution. “For example, if you are being subjected to sexist comments or jokes and you want to complain about it, you can save your own set of dated notes that explain what happened ( who , what , why , when and where ),” says Bachman. “Keep track of other staff members who witnessed the persecution and list their names. If you receive offensive text, emails or images, it is very important to keep them and not delete or modify them in any way. ” Keep these records on your home computer, not on your work computer.
Keep in mind here: If you keep a written record of incidents, your records are likely to be “discovered” – meaning the other party can see them – in a lawsuit, cautions Kathleen Peratis, labor relations attorney and partner of Outten and Golden in New York City. However, if they are written in the form of “ruminating on litigation,” which means that you deliberately keep records in preparation for filing a claim, this is not the case. Therefore, Peratis instructs to write these exact words – “pending trial” – in his notes so that they do not fall into the hands of the other party.
And if you are tempted to secretly record your stalker, Bachman will warn you: Laws on covert recording vary from state to state – some states require only one party to a conversation to consent to the recording, while others require the consent of all parties. You can search Google for the specific laws of your state, but honestly, this is not a question that you should leave to the Internet – if you are thinking about a secret record of your stalker, you should speak to a lawyer.
Get a lawyer
If you still can’t make peace or are facing retaliation for your complaint, then it’s time to consider finding an employment lawyer. “While you don’t need to complain or call a lawyer about every minor neglect or comment, you also should not be forced to work in a work environment where you are sexually harassed or treated differently because of [your gender].” says Bachmann. … “If you feel that the persecution is affecting your ability to do your job or your emotional well-being, then it makes sense to see a lawyer.” You can find employment lawyers at NELA.org .
Walk forward in a group if you can
One woman filing a complaint discovers a campaign to vilify her motives, ambitions, intelligence and appearance. (Even when groups of women come forward, they are still vulnerable.) But you are much more likely to believe and get your company to take action if you can get other women to report as well. This is where you can harness the full power of the whispering network.
Claire Kane Miller, writing for the New York Times, reports on a new college campus harassment reporting strategy known as “escrow.” In the article, she explains: “Victims file a time stamped complaint against the abuser and can only request to be reported if another employee is filing a complaint against the same person.” In theory, this creates a case against the attacker without necessarily opening up a single accuser to retaliate. Note, however, that this digital complaint repository has only been tested on college campuses, with a broader pilot program planned for 2018. So this is not a viable option for jobs at the moment, but it may be in the future.
What to do if you witness workplace harassment
What if you are not a victim but an observer? “The observer’s point of view is something that we have not paid enough attention to,” says Peratis. “How can you support who you are targeting?” People who are victims of sexual harassment feel isolated and lonely. “They don’t know if they are imagining it and they often feel guilty,” she says. “Weighing in as a friend or colleague can be an important part of getting this whole disaster going in the best direction. The slogan “if you see something, say something” should refer to abuse in the workplace. ” If you hear rude jokes or witness ugly behavior, a short “I’m uncomfortable with these conversations” can go a long way in stigmatizing the abusive behavior.
“The men will explain that they are just joking – they do not want to intimidate. But of course it’s humiliating and offensive, ”says Peratis. Passers-by, especially men, can short-circuit a hostile environment by speaking out, for example, when they hear this kind of derogatory humor. And Peratis points out that if you’re not acting on your own behalf, you might be a little safer from retaliation. “You are not trying to get anything, you are not trying to deflect criticism,” so, rightly or not, your report may be taken more seriously than the victim’s recall.
If an immediate confrontation is not possible, you can send an email or talk to the person being persecuted and ask him if he is okay or if he needs support. Even if they reject – the victim may not need your help, Peratis points out – they know they are an ally if they decide to report later. You can still document the incident by emailing yourself (again, do this from home, not on your work computer).
Miller, in the Times story linked above, reports that traditional sexual harassment trainings in the offices are not particularly helpful, they basically just ass covering maneuver corporate bosses, but note that the passers-by to step in training actually help. This may be because it empowers everyone to maintain a civilian workplace, but it also removes the “victim” and “stalker” labels — labels that some people do not want to accept. Even if you believe you are not subject to sexual harassment yourself, please read your company policies on how to report an incident if you witness an incident.
How to file a complaint with the EEOC
“One of the most common and important external complaints mechanisms that a lawyer will tell you about is filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” says Bachman. A discrimination charge is a formal statement that your employer (or union) has discriminated against you.
“Assuming you work for a private company, you have 180 or 300 days (depending on which state you live in) from the time you committed the harassment to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC,” says Bachman. “Under certain circumstances, this deadline may be extended to cover earlier discriminatory behavior if you can prove it was part of an ongoing harassment.” If you end up filing a claim (which would fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964), you must first file a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
These actions are easier (at least relatively) to take in a typical corporate environment with a functioning workforce. It gets harder to navigate harassment when you’re a freelancer or in an area like television and film: In a Harvey Weinstein situation, the victim may not know who to report. It is difficult to demonstrate a “ hostile work environment ” where the harassment took place in one audition and being honest would have negative consequences for your career.
However, there are options: Bachman points out that you can still complain to the company the stalker works for, and “any decent company will investigate the complaint.” I’m not sure if this was true in the past, but things are definitely changing – companies are now probably more alert to the potential liability or publicity implications of ignoring a harassment complaint.
However, whether a victim of sexual harassment goes public depends largely on her tolerance for the inevitable consequences. Unsurprisingly, relatively wealthy women in Hollywood have kicked off the recent wave of accusations; we have heard little about the ongoing harassment and attacks that are the norm for the poor and workers. For them – hotel maids, service workers, sex workers and others – “how to communicate” is not a problem. The price of the performance is too high.