Should I be afraid to report sexual misconduct and harassment?
The short answer is No. But it’s not always the easy answer. Complaining about sexual harassment to your boss or to human resources can be a difficult thing to do, especially if the harasser is a supervisor or someone with authority in the organization. But here is the thing—the law offers strong protections to you against retaliation for reporting or complaining about harassment. You just have to be brave enough to do something about it. And yes, it is risky. There is a chance that you won’t be believed. There is a chance that you will be retaliated against in some way for complaining about harassment. But like many other things in life, if you won’t stand up for yourself, you can’t expect others to do it for you. The good news is, the law will stand up for you too, if you insist on your right to be free from harassment.
It’s important to consider your options when reporting sexual harassment.
So the first thing to ask yourself is, is it worth it to me to stand up for myself, or am I better off just putting up with it? Or, maybe just quitting and finding another job? Neither option is a good one. Of course you should not put up with it. While it may be easy for someone to say this who isn’t in your position, letting any kind of injustice or mistreatment go unchallenged is a disservice to yourself, and to everyone else who might become victims of the same behavior. We know from the “me too” movement that many perpetrators were able to continue their misconduct for many years because no one stopped them. It is more acceptable now than ever before to complain about such misconduct. It is still not easy, but it can and should be done.
If you’re thinking about quitting your job anyway, you have nothing to lose by complaining about inappropriate behavior. You may as well make a record of it so that the next victim might be spared what you’re going through.
But if you’re like most victims of workplace sexual harassment, you want to hold on to your job and you want the harassment to stop. So, you must report it.
It’s not easy to report sexual harassment, but it can and should be done.
Review your employee handbook so that you know what the anti-harassment policy says and how you are supposed to report it. Then, follow the policy. If your complaint is initially an oral statement to a supervisor or an HR person, make sure you keep a written record of who you told, when, and what you said. Follow up with an email to that person: “As I told you this afternoon, I’m making a complaint about . . . .”
Be prepared if your HR person tells you they will have to conduct an investigation by, among other things, questioning the perpetrator and other witnesses about it. Your employer can’t investigate your allegations or do anything about them if you refuse to cooperate by identifying the perpetrator and describing the offensive conduct. Also, be prepared to lose some control over the situation once you report it. While your employer should do all it can to respect your desire for privacy and confidentiality, it has a legal obligation to investigate and stop unlawful harassment. If you say, “My boss is harassing me but I don’t want you to let him know I told you,” there may not be much the company can do to investigate your allegations and stop the conduct.
On the other hand, depending upon the specifics of the situation, your employer may decide it must investigate your allegations even if you don’t want it to. If you are the only victim, the employer would not normally start an investigation without your approval and cooperation, but if there are other victims, or other witnesses, your employer may decide it has an obligation to go ahead with its investigation anyway. You have to be prepared for the fact that the perpetrator will know someone complained, and will probably know or suspect it was you. That’s why the anti-retaliation protection of the law is so important.
This is perhaps the most important point you need to keep in mind: if you don’t report the harassment to the appropriate person, your employer cannot do anything about it and may not be legally responsible for the misconduct.
For example, if you fail to report the misconduct to your employer and you decide to quit because of it, you may not be able to bring any legal claim for the harassment. You must put the employer on notice of the misconduct, through the appropriate reporting channels as laid out in the employee manual or the company’s harassment policy. (Almost every company has such a policy these days. If yours doesn’t, then you must just report the harassment to the highest supervisor you can, or to human resources, or both.)
In short, the law protects you from retaliation if you report sexual harassment.
You cannot legally be fired, demoted, given less hours, or otherwise retaliated against for reporting unlawful harassment. If you believe you have been retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment, you should not hesitate to contact an Ohio or Kentucky employment lawyer to see what can be done to protect your rights.
- How do I know if something is sexual harassment?
- Do I have a sexual harassment case?
- Do I have a hostile environment case?
- What should I do if I’m being harassed at work?
- If I’m being harassed should I quit my job?
- Do I have to file a complaint with my employer or my HR department first before I can sue for sexual harassment?
- Can I sue for sexual harassment if there were no witnesses?