Legally speaking s*xual harassment is an unwanted or unsolicited s*xual behavior or advance to a person of opposite or same s*x to cause intimidation, hostility, or offense to the other.
The act of s*xual harassment in workplaces has been held to be a repeated offensive, vilifying or belittling jokes, public display of disgusting pornography, fashioning an intimidating work atmosphere with an obvious intent of s*xual assault.
Federal and State legislation providentially protect workers from discrimination based on gender as well as s*xual harassment in a workplace by same laws. Precisely by virtue of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, there exists Federal legislation that prohibits s*xual harassment. This law is practically domesticated in most states to regulate just employment practices laws by directly providing for the prohibition of s*xual harassment in workplaces. Most state laws have more stringent punishment than the federal law.
The purpose of this article is to create awareness of the legal or necessary steps to be taken by a person who is s*xually harassed at work and how you can protect yourself from further harassment. Some of the steps are to wit:
Boldly Confront the Harasser and Verbally to Stop the Offensive Behavior
It may be difficult to take this bold step, but it is one of the most effective ways of dealing with harassment at its early stage. Early signs of s*xually offensive behavior may take the form of despising or poor jokes, unsuitable remarks about your physical appearance, or vulgar animations posted around the office to make a caricature of you.
You must note that spoken words initiate most harassment and plainly demanding that you want the offensive behavior to stop is imperative to terminating same because it puts the harasser on notice that you are not interested in the undesirable conduct.
At law, there must be an overt expression of disinterest in an offensive behavior to meet or satisfy the legal definition of s*xual harassment. Hence, it is an important initial stride precedent upon a more formal action which you may wish to take against the harasser.
If the harasser refuses or disregards your oral requests to stop, or where you are itchy about talking to the harasser physically, you may also consider writing a brief letter expressing that such behavior offends you and you desire it to stop. It is advisable that you keep a copy of such letter for future reference.
Report to Supervisors
There is a hierarchy of authority in every work environment. You may be apprehensive about your own safety or frightened that the harasser might become more aggressive if you confront him/her personally, then you may complain to a supervisor directly.
Where the harasser refuses to stop after confrontation either personally or through the supervisor, or if the supposed supervisor now turns to be the harasser, you may consider escalating your complaint inside the company.
Most blue-chip organization has complaint policy on s*xual harassment, and you may verify your company’s personnel policies or employee handbook on the formal procedure to handle such issues and follow up on the due process. If there is no existing policy, you may seek counsel from supervisors, human resources or colleagues on how to make a formal complaint about s*xual harassment to the company.
If you are unable to get help from your company’s existing policy, you may shoot up and move up the chain of command to managers, executives or directors of the company.
You must also endeavor to keep documentary records and evidence of the steps you have taken internally within your company to stop the menace.
The primary reason for documenting the steps you have taken within the company hierarchy is merely to satisfy the requirement of the law whether or not it can stop the offensive behavior. This is premised upon the U.S. Supreme Court decision on plethora of cases that an employee who fails to utilize their internal employer’s complaint procedure to bring to the notice of the company of s*xual harassment, and to afford the company an opportunity to stop it through the use of her administrative mechanism, may not be allowed to hold the company liable in a lawsuit.
This automatically suggests that the victim of harassment is likely to lose in court if you don’t complain within the company first before instituting legal action. Your case in court will be deemed to be premature.
You must also note that the pronouncement of the court stands whether or not there is a formal complaint procedure existing in the company; you have a legal responsibility to put the company on notice of the harassment. Just ensure that a person of authority is formally aware of the harassment and same is adequately documented by you through e-mails, acknowledgment or correspondence, registered courier or oral complaint that can be proved.
Documenting Your Claims
There is general saying in law that “documents don’t lie,” this goes to mean that documentary evidence remains the best evidence in law and it is imperative for a victim of harassment to document facts and events as they occur and reactions by everyone involved. It is advisable to documents correspondence within a workplace, and they will serve as proof to your case either before a company investigator, a government agency, Court or a jury.
You must keep details of evidence of harassment as much as you can from the commencement and steps you took to stop, avoid or resist the harasser. You must also keep records of offensive letters, e-mails, text messages, lewd photographs, cards, or notes and any other offensive depictions you received from the harasser.
As much as you can, you may also keep details of the precise advances made against you which actually caused you to feel uncomfortable such as of jokes, denigrations, pin-ups, or animations posted at your workplace. You may also try to confiscate them, make copies or take photographs; irrespective of whether or they are anonymous, provided they are obnoxious photos or comical and posted against you whether, on a public bulletin board or private display, you are at liberty to take it down and maintain it as evidence.
Endeavor to note the dates of display of the offensive material, the reactions after it was taken down. You should also keep a detailed periodical journal of the occurrences of harassment. Take note of the names of everyone involved, including the patrons, accomplices, and sympathizers of the harasser as well as the precise location or scene of the event. Take note and names of witnesses. Endeavor to be exact as much as you can about oral or verbal statements and how it impacted on you, your health, psychology, emotions and your job routine and performance.
Ensure that you have records of compelling and persuasive evidence as well as records of reprisal attacks after complaining to the authority.
You must also report cases of a person in the position of authority who try to suppress evidence, such as refusal to furnish you with your performance evaluations, attempt to transfer, demote, or fire you, or claims that your job appraisal or performance is inadequate as a result of your complaint.
The Procedure of Complaining to Government Agencies Before Filing a Lawsuit Against S*xual Harassment
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a Federal Agency of government, established to enforce the provisions Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits s*xual harassment in a workplace and discrimination of persons based on gender.
After you have complained to your and you are unable to find help or justice, it is advisable that you approach the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or your State Fair Employment Office with a formal complaint annexing your proofs.
Instituting a Law Suit against S*xual Harassment in a Workplace
It is most likely that the harasser would stop or have been penalized before getting to this state. But if all forms of investigation and settlement attempts fail to produce suitable results, you may file a civil lawsuit for damages against the harasser or your company (who took no step) under either Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or your State Fair Employment Practices Law.
Take note that filing a claim or complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a condition precedent to filing a federal lawsuit, and an analogous complaint procedure is required under state laws.
Upon filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), EEOC or its equivalent state agency may settle on prosecuting your case in your stead or issue you with a document known as a letter of “right-to-sue” which enables you to take your case to court with your private attorney.
Retaining the services of a first-rate attorney for your s*xual harassment case is another important factor that will determine your success in court. You may read our article on Top 20 Law Firms in America
You must also note that there are time limits for filing claims with Federal and State Government agencies, s*xual harassment lawsuit may also be statute barred if filed out of time. You may seek counsel from an attorney to understand how the limitation of time may affect your case.