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How to Report Sexual Harassment at Work?

If you believe you have experienced sexual harassment at work, there are steps you should take to try to end the unwanted behavior, such as reporting it to your supervisor or your employer’s Human Resources. You may also choose to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The 5-step guide below, explains how to report sexual harassment at work.

1. Keep detailed records
Keep detailed records of the date and time of the sexual harassment, the place that the harassment occurred, any details you recall, the names of the individual(s) involved or present and other pertinent details. These records will be useful when you file a report with your supervisor and if you decide to file a complaint or legal claim. It may be helpful to keep a journal with your memories of the incidents, as you might have a difficult time remembering details later on.

Additionally, be sure to document or save any evidence of the harassment, including witness accounts, text messages, emails, photos, call logs, Facebook messages or other forms of evidence. This will help support your case when your employer and/or a state or federal agency investigate your claim.

2. File a complaint with your employer
If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should file a formal complaint in writing to your supervisor and/or Human Resources as soon as possible. It is important to do so in writing, as this will protect you should your employer deny knowledge of the complaint.

Under California state law, employers are required to respond to formal sexual harassment complaints with an investigation of the alleged incident(s) and correct any misconduct that is discovered. They must act quickly, thoroughly and objectively when conducting the investigation and implementing corrective action. The purpose of the investigation should be to uncover the facts, and often involves interviewing both parties as well as any witnesses. If possible and appropriate, the employer should consider making reasonable accommodations to the victim during the investigation. If harassment is discovered, the employer is responsible for taking immediate corrective action. Failure to respond to an internal complaint could make an employer liable for further damages.

3. Choose to file a complaint with the DFEH or EEOC
A victim also has the option of filing a sexual harassment claim through a state or federal agency. This may be especially important should the employer fail to respond to the complaint, fail to investigate fully, or if the victim is otherwise unsatisfied with the way the complaint was handled and wishes to pursue another avenue to resolve the conflict.
The DFEH is a state agency that deals with claims under California state law, while the EEOC deals with claims under federal law. Because California law has wider protections for sexual harassment, it is more common to file a claim with DFEH than with EEOC.

It is best not to delay in contacting the DFEH or EEOC to file a claim, as there are strict time limits for doing so. You must file a claim with the DFEH within one year of the harassment incident, and you have 180 days after the harassment incident to file a claim with the EEOC. (The deadline to file with the EEOC is tolled to one year if you simultaneously file with the DFEH.) The DFEH and EEOC have a “work-sharing agreement,” which means they work together to process claims. Therefore, it is unnecessary to file your claim with both agencies. If you do not file your complaint with the DFEH or EEOC within the statute of limitations, it can be difficult to take further legal action.

Although you can file these agency complaints on your own, we recommend working with an experienced attorney to do so. They can assist you to make sure that the complaint is filed correctly and includes all of the relevant information.

4. Go through an investigation of your claim

Once you file a claim with either agency, they will ask your employer to respond to questions regarding your complaint. Should the agency proceed with an investigation, they might do so by interviewing witnesses and gathering other documents. If they determine that sexual harassment did occur, they will try to reach a settlement with your employer. Even if the agency concludes that sexual harassment did not occur, this does not mean that you would not win in court or should not attempt to pursue your claim. Rather, if they determine that sexual harassment did not occur, they will send you a “Right to Sue” notice, which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in court.

5. Find out if you should pursue the case in court
If the state or federal agency determines that sexual harassment did not occur and sends you a “Right to Sue” notice, you have the option to pursue the case in court. At this point, it is advisable to speak with an experienced employment attorney to determine your rights and discuss the best course of action.

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