It’s a sad fact that sexual harassment is still rampant in workplaces in this day and age, whether white or blue collar-office, retail, glamorous Hollywood, or physical labor. Harvey Weinstein and the overwhelming number of accusations of sexual harassment in the movie industry make it clear that it happens in the workplace. Staggering numbers of emboldened women are telling their sexual harassment and abuse stories on social media. These #metoo posts, started by actor Alyssa Milano, are heartening and disturbing at the same time.
Why were so many so silent for so long?
There are laws that make sexual harassment of women (and men) in the workplace illegal. Many people are afraid to take advantage of the law for fear of retaliation and reprisal. People want to know how Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly got away with illegal conduct for so long. Men in power have at least two powerful tools at their disposal to keep the women they abuse from going public with allegations and effectively ending their careers:
1) Money to buy the silence of women who threaten legal action.
2) Power in their industry to easily ruin the careers of the people who threaten or cross them.
In my 23-year career as a lawyer handling employment-related claims, including sexual harassment, this conduct occurs. Many employers are willing to do the right thing by employees who report sexual harassment, but there are also companies that don’t.
What should you do if you think someone is acting inappropriately toward you at work?
Almost every company has clear steps to be taken in the case of sexual harassment, and often the first step is to report the behavior. Normally you’d report to a supervisor or to the Human Resources Department. This information is usually found in the employee handbook, but if not, you could ask a supervisor or someone in management in your company about the appropriate steps to take. It is important that you give the company a chance to solve any workplace problem you are having with harassment.
What if the harasser is so high up in the company that he is the company? (essentially the case for Harvey Weinstein)
If the owner or someone very high in the company, like the president or CEO, is the person harassing you, again, look for a policy that tells you where to report unwanted harassment and report the misconduct. Some companies have a Board of Directors or other owners that can consider your complaint of harassment. If the person harassing you has a high enough position in the company, you might also need to seek legal counsel to assist you.
Always keep records of the incidents of harassment
Keep records of harassment incidents and the steps you took to remedy it. If a coworker is sending you inappropriate comments over email or chat, save those messages. Also save your emails or messages to human-resources or your superior in which you report these incidents should you need to prove you reported the coworker. Protect yourself in situations of harassment.
You have rights
Under federal civil rights laws reporting harassment to a supervisor or Human Resources professional can be a protected activity. That means that your job should not be negatively affected for reporting something you reasonably believe is illegal harassment. If your manager or coworker retaliates against you after you report harassment, they may have broken the law and you may have grounds to sue. Keep in mind many civil rights laws only apply to companies with more than 15 employees.
What does retaliation look like? A manager may give you a negative performance review after you report harassment, or fail to give you the raise you had coming up. A coworker may refuse to work with you on a project you had both been assigned, or otherwise make it more difficult for you to perform your job duties.
Silence is not the answer!
If you feel you have experienced workplace harassment or retaliation and may have a reason to sue, call the experienced attorneys at Mastando & Artrip. We have more than 60 combined years of experience, and are knowledgeable in the field of workplace litigation. We are always happy to speak with you at 256-532-2222.