Sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable, period. And even though sexual harassment most often takes the form of men harassing women, it can happen to men and women, gay and straight. But before you file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer, there are a few things you really should do to both help your case, and more importantly, get the offender or offenders to stop.
Tell The Offender(s) To Stop
Confronting the offending person or people is often the most difficult step of combating sexual harassment. But whether done verbally or in writing, it is frequently the most effective way of dealing with the situation.
Clearly stating that you want the offensive behavior to stop is important, because it lets the offender know that the behavior is unwelcome (which it must be in order to meet the legal definition of sexual harassment). It is also a crucial first step if you later decide to continue with filing a sexual harassment lawsuit.
If you are concerned for your personal safety or are afraid that the offender might become more hostile when confronted, notify a supervisor instead.
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Notify Your Supervisor
If confronting the offender directly either isn’t possible or is ineffective, the next step is to escalate the issue within the company and notify your supervisor.
Check your company’s employee handbook, personnel policies, or manual. If there is a sexual harassment or complaint policy, follow it. If not, ask your supervisor or someone in the human resources or personnel department how to make a sexual harassment complaint.
If you don’t get the help you need, move up the chain of command to managers and executives, documenting everything you’ve done along the way.
While this process can be intimidating, it’s also another crucial step before filing a sexual harassment lawsuit.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that employees who fail to use their employer’s internal complaint procedure to make the company aware of sexual harassment, and to give the company a chance to stop it, may not be allowed to hold the company liable in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
If you do end up in court with a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer, then your case will depend almost entirely on the evidence and documentation you are able to provide to support your claim.
Start by collecting as much detailed evidence as possible about the harassment. Be sure to save any offensive letters, photographs, cards, or notes you receive. If you were made to feel uncomfortable because of jokes, pin-ups, or cartoons posted at work, confiscate them — or at least make copies.
Also, keep a detailed journal about incidents of harassment. Include the names of everyone involved, what happened, and where and when it took place.
Finally make sure you have copies of your performance evaluations and other important HR documents. In fact, you may want to ask for a copy of your entire personnel file before complaining about a harassing coworker. Your records can be particularly persuasive evidence if your employer retaliates against you for complaining — which is also illegal.
Consult With A Sexaul Harassment Attorney
Once you have notified both the sexual harassment offender, your supervisor, and any other appropriate staff at your company (and documented and collected evidence along the way) — it’s time to consult an attorney.
Getting help with a sexual harassment lawsuit is an important step, and a good lawyer will review your complaint, examine the evidence and documentation you’ve collected, and then help you prepare your case.
A sexual harassment lawsuit can be a very long and emotionally difficult process, especially if your employer is a larger company with ample legal resources to fight back in court. So before filing your lawsuit, make sure you’ve exhausted all other potential avenues to resolve the issue, and be willing to accept whatever outcome may happen once things go to court.