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Reporting Harassment in the Workplace is Seldom an Easy Thing to Do

Reporting Harassment in the Workplace is Seldom an Easy Thing to Do

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, undoubtedly with good intentions, has issued a short web posting: “What to Do if You Believe You Have Been Harassed at Work.”

In part, the posting states:

1)    If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the person who is harassing you to stop.  

2)    If you do not feel comfortable confronting the harasser directly, or if the behavior does not stop, follow these steps:

a. Check to see if your employer has an anti-harassment policy. This may be on the employer’s website. If it’s not, check your employee handbook. Finally, you can ask any supervisor (it does not have to be your supervisor) or someone in Human Resources (if your employer has an HR department) whether there is an anti-harassment policy and if so, to give you a copy.

b. If there is a policy, follow the steps in the policy. The policy should give you various options for reporting the harassment, including the option of filing a complaint.

c. If there is no policy, talk with a supervisor. You can talk with your own supervisor, the supervisor of the person who is harassing you, or any supervisor in the organization. Explain what has happened and ask for that person’s help in getting the behavior to stop.

d. The law protects you from retaliation (punishment) for complaining about harassment. You have a right to report harassment, participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit, or oppose harassment, without being retaliated against for doing so.

e. You always have an option of filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC to complain about the harassment. There are specific time limits for filing a charge (180 or 300 days, depending on where you work), so contact EEOC promptly. See the EEOC’s How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination. You can also meet confidentially with the EEOC to discuss your situation and your options. (Note: Federal employees and job applicants have a different complaint process and different time limits.)

The EEOC makes some good points, but its statement seems premised on the expectation that an employer will stop the harassment and not allow retaliation to occur. There are many other issues an employee should consider before reporting job harassment, including:

  1. Should you document your reporting in writing?
  2. Should you provide your employer all evidence of the harassment or just describe what happened?
  3. What demands should you place on the employer, if any?
  4. What conditions can you or should you place on the employer?
  5. How much time should you give to the employer to act on your report?

Regrettably, after our decades of involvement, Lebau & Neuworth can report that employers often do not act to protect the interests of the victim and often are more concerned with limiting their legal exposure.

If you have been unlawfully harassed at work or been the victim of harassment, you should consult with a lawyer to protect your rights. Contact Lebau & Neuworth at  at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.

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