Do I have to file a complaint with my employer or my HR department first before I can sue for sexual harassment?
Before you can file a successful lawsuit for sexual harassment, you normally have to inform your employer of the harassment to give your employer a chance to stop it.
The Supreme Court of the United States has been very clear about this. Employers have a right to be told if their employees are being sexually harassed so the employer—the company—can take steps to stop the harassment before a lawsuit is filed.
This is why it’s important to know your sexual harassment policy at work and to report the harassment to the appropriate person. In most cases, you have to report the harassment before you can file a lawsuit.
Sometimes we find that when people call our office with harassment claims, they have not made it clear to the harasser that it is unwanted behavior, so we often tell them it’s important to make it clear to the harasser. Have you told this person? Have you made it clear to this person that these comments or actions are unwelcome? Sometimes the victim hasn’t yet made that crystal clear.
We also get calls from people complaining about sexual harassment before reporting the harassment to a supervisor. Almost every modern company has a sexual harassment policy in their employee handbook posted in the workplace saying they do not tolerate sexual harassment. If your employee handbook has a sexual harassment section, it will also tell you what you should do if you’re the victim of sexual harassment. Under the law, you’re required to report sexual harassment to an appropriate supervisor if you want to make a claim later on. You can’t just go into court and file a lawsuit without your employer’s knowledge of the incident. People are often afraid to complain and, in some cases, they don’t know they have to before taking legal action.
It’s never too soon to ask a lawyer for advice. Most employment lawyers will take a few minutes over the phone to hear your situation and give you some guidance about whether you should talk to your employer or whether you should hire a lawyer immediately. However, generally you must follow your employer’s sexual harassment policy which almost always requires you to report harassment to the HR department or to the appropriate supervisor before you can file a lawsuit.