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.
Other Employment Law FAQs:
- According to the rules for overtime pay in California, how long do I have to file an overtime pay claim?
- Am I entitled to overtime pay?
- Are there any restrictions on what an employer can ask me during a job interview?
- Can employers assign work based on employees’ ages?
- Can I get fired for reporting sexual harassment to my employer?
- Can my employer ask about my age?
- Can my employer legitimately deduct anything from my paycheck?
- Can my former employer give me a bad reference to a potential employer in the future after I have reported sexual harassment?
- Can temps file discrimination lawsuits?
- Does an employer have to give me rest breaks?
- Does sexual harassment have to involve sex or other physical contact?
- How and when do you file an unlawful retaliation lawsuit?
- How can I prove age discrimination in my workplace?
- How do I recognize on-the-job discrimination?
- How is illegal retaliation defined?
- How is national origin discrimination defined?
- How to Report Sexual Harassment at Work?
- I am scared to report sexual harassment because I fear that I will be retaliated against by my employer. What should I do?
- I have recently become disabled and cannot do the work I had been doing. What should I do?
- I was bypassed for promotion because I’m pregnant. Is that legal?
- I was sick and had to take a leave of absence. When I came back to work, I was fired. Is it wrong for me to be fired?
- If I am laid off, does my employer have to pay me severance?
- If I was sexually assaulted many years ago, can I still bring a civil lawsuit for damages?
- If my employer violated the terms in the employee handbook by firing me, can I hold him responsible?
- Is an employee or applicant protected from discrimination because of their past pregnancy?
- Is my employer responsible if I am sexually harassed at a company-sponsored event outside of working hours?
- Is sexual battery charged as a misdemeanor or felony?
- May an employer ask an employee or an applicant if they are pregnant or if they intend to become pregnant soon?
- My employer does not pay mileage reimbursement when I use my own car for company business. What is the California law on mileage reimbursement?
- My employer does not pay overtime pay. What is the California law on overtime pay? Am I supposed to receive overtime on my commission also?
- My employer yelled and cursed at me. Can I sue him or her for harassment?
- What are my rights regarding breaks and meal periods?
- What are the federal and state laws and regulations which provide legal protections for employees?
- What are the signs of age discrimination in the workplace?
- What are the time limits for filing a sexual harassment claim?
- What can I do if I see my co-worker being sexually harassed? Can I file a suit against it?
- What can I do if I was wrongfully terminated?
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- What if I work in a small business and the person harassing me is the owner or supervisor?
- What is age discrimination? What are some examples of age discrimination?
- What is an “at will” work state?
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- What is the ADEA?
- What is the California law for vacation pay? My employer does not want to pay me for unused vacation pay when I quit or was terminated.
- What is the difference between sexual violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment?
- What is the Wage Theft Protection Act?
- What proof of discrimination at work do I need to include in a discrimination complaint?
- What qualifies as discrimination?
- What qualifies as sexual harassment at work?
- What should I do if I believe I was the victim of employment discrimination?
- What should I do if I was sexually harassed?
- What workplace actions are prohibited under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)?
- Who do I tell when I feel I am being sexually harassed at work?
- Who is covered by the Wage Theft Protection Act?