How to Report Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

November 30, 2023

Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace can be difficult and complicated, but is necessary to create a respectful and safe environment in the workplace. For those experiencing or witnessing this type of harassment, understanding how to report it and where to find help is foundational to reaching a resolution. Confidentiality and support are important when handling these sensitive issues. When handling these cases, the sexual harassment attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak serve clients with professionalism and empathy, ensuring that their concerns are addressed with the seriousness they deserve.

Workplace Sexual Harassment & Your Rights

Sexual harassment in the workplace includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Behaviors range from unwanted sexual propositions to verbal harassment like lewd comments and inappropriate jokes, to displaying sexually suggestive materials.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, victims of workplace sexual harassment are protected against discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces this law, offering a pathway for victims to file complaints and seek resolution, which can include mediation or legal action. In California protections against sexual harassment in the workplace are also afforded under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Knowing your rights is a big part of dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, but knowing how to effectively report sexual harassment is just as important. It turns awareness into action. When you understand both your rights and the reporting process, you're equipped not just to spot harassment but to stand up against it.

Steps to Report Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

1.  Confronting the Perpetrator (If it is Safe)

Immediate Response 

  • Assessing Safety: Before confronting the perpetrator, assess your safety. You should consider the perpetrator's history and the setting where you’ll confront them. If there's any risk of physical harm or further harassment, prioritize your safety and consider another way.
  • Choosing the Right Moment: Find a suitable time and place for this conversation, preferably where you have some privacy but are still in a safe, like a semi-public space.
  • Direct Communication: If you decide it's safe, address the perpetrator directly. Be clear and firm. For example, you could say, "Your comments/actions are inappropriate and make me uncomfortable. Please stop immediately."

Note the Reaction

  • Document the Interaction: After confronting the perpetrator, write down the details of the conversation, including the date, time, location, what was said by both parties and the perpetrator's response.
  • Witnesses: If a colleague witnessed the confrontation, note their name and contact information. They could provide a third-party perspective if needed.
  • Changes in Behavior: Observe and document any changes in the perpetrator's behavior following the confrontation. Record if the harassment stops, continues, or escalates.

Additional Considerations

  • Emotional Preparedness: Confronting someone about harassment can be emotionally taxing. Prepare yourself mentally for various responses, including denial, anger, or apology.
  • Practice Your Message: If you're nervous, it might help to practice what you want to say beforehand. You can do this alone, with a friend, or with a counselor.
  • Non-Verbal Communication: Be mindful of your body language. Stay calm and confident to help convey your message more effectively.
  • Avoiding Retaliation: Be prepared for the possibility of retaliation from the perpetrator. If you experience any form of retaliation, document it and report it according to your workplace's policies or external authorities, if applicable.

2.  Detailed Documentation of Incidents

Importance of Detailed Records

  • Building a Strong Case: Documenting everything gives you concrete proof that backs up your story and strengthens your case. This kind of evidence is hard to ignore, making it difficult for the harasser or the company to downplay what you've experienced.
  • Memory Aid: Over time, details can become blurred in our memory. Accurate records ensure that every incident is captured as it happened.

What to Document

  • Specific Details of Each Incident: Record the date, time, and location of each incident. Describe the behavior or comments made, including the exact words or actions, if possible.
  • Contextual Information: Note the context in which the harassment occurred. Was it during a meeting, in a private space, or in a public area of the workplace? Context can help illustrate the nature of the harassment.
  • Witness Information: If anyone else was present or observed the harassment, record their names and contact details. Witnesses can provide third-party accounts which can be necessary depending on the case.
  • Perpetrator’s Identity: Clearly identify the individual or individuals involved in each incident.
  • Frequency and Pattern: Keep track of how often the harassment occurs. A pattern of behavior over time can be particularly compelling evidence.

How to Document

  • Written Records: Keep a written log in a notebook or digital document. Be as detailed and factual as possible.
  • Electronic Records: If you have emails, text messages, or social media messages that constitute harassment, save and back them up. Take screenshots if necessary.
  • Audio/Visual Evidence: If you have recordings or photographs that are relevant, ensure they are saved and backed up. Be aware of legal considerations regarding recording individuals without their consent. 
  • Privacy Considerations: Be cautious about who has access to your records. They should remain confidential until you decide to take action.
  • Avoid Defamation: Stick to factual accounts of incidents. Avoid making unsubstantiated accusations or statements that could be considered defamatory.

3. Internal Reporting: Navigating Workplace Channels

Understanding Your Company's Harassment Policy

Begin by locating your company's sexual harassment policy, which is typically found in the employee handbook, on the company intranet, or by asking HR. It's important to review the policy carefully, paying attention to the definition of harassment, the steps for reporting it, and the consequences outlined for perpetrators. Additionally, familiarize yourself with your rights and protections against retaliation for reporting harassment, as these are guaranteed by both your company and the law.

Preparing for Reporting

When preparing to report harassment, organize all documentation of the incidents. This should include dates, times, specific details, and any witness information. Draft a formal complaint that is clear and concise, detailing the specific incidents and their impact on your work environment. If possible, seek advice from a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a legal advisor to review your complaint and strategize your approach.

Approaching HR or Management

Decide who the most appropriate person for reporting is, whether it's your direct manager, an HR representative, or a designated officer. Schedule a private and confidential meeting to discuss the issue. In this meeting, present your case clearly and factually, using your documentation to support your claims. Discuss potential resolutions and inquire about the next steps, including the investigation process and what to expect in terms of follow-up.

After Reporting

After filing your report, maintain records of all communications with HR or management regarding your complaint. It's also important to understand how the investigation will be conducted. Ask questions about confidentiality and how you will be informed of the investigation's progress. Finally, consider accessing support services available within or outside your organization to help you through this process.

Reporting Sexual Harassment Externally and Filing Complaints

Sometimes, resolving sexual harassment issues internally isn't enough, external reporting becomes necessary. An employment attorney can be invaluable in this process, helping you understand and navigate the complexities of dealing with organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for federal complaints, and your state's labor department or human rights commission for local issues.

Preparing to File a Complaint:

  • Gather Your Evidence: Organize all your documentation, including incident details, communications, and witness statements.
  • Detail the Incidents: Write a comprehensive account of the harassment and its impact on your work life.
  • Consult an Employment Lawyer: Their expertise can guide you on the best approach and help you understand the nuances of filing your complaint.

Initiating a Formal Complaint:

  • Filing the Complaint: With your lawyer's guidance, complete and submit the necessary forms to the EEOC or a relevant state agency, adhering to all deadlines.
  • Include Your Documentation: Attach all pertinent records, emails, messages, and employer responses to your complaint.

Navigating the Investigation:

  • Monitor Progress: Keep an eye on how your complaint is being handled and expect regular updates.
  • Participate Actively: Be ready to provide additional information or engage in interviews as part of the investigation.
  • Explore Resolution Options: The investigating agency may propose mediation or other resolution methods. Discuss these with your attorney to decide if they're right for your situation.

Navigating external reporting can be complex, but with the right legal support, it becomes a manageable path toward resolution. This leads us to the next step: understanding when and how to seek further legal consultation for protection and advocacy.

5.  Legal Consultation for Protection and Advocacy

When to Involve a Lawyer: Consider legal advice if the harassment persists despite reporting, if the company's response is inadequate, or if you face retaliation, which is illegal and can be grounds for a separate claim. Lawyers are particularly valuable in complex cases involving high-ranking individuals or systemic issues.

Finding the Right Lawyer: Seek a lawyer with specialization in employment law and experience in sexual harassment cases. Research online, check reviews, ask for referrals, and utilize free initial consultations to find the best attorney.

Working With a Lawyer: Provide your lawyer with all relevant documentation of the harassment. They will guide you through legal strategies, like negotiating settlements or proceeding to litigation, and explain the legal process and potential outcomes. Discuss legal fees upfront, considering both contingency and retainer arrangements, and weigh the emotional and financial implications of legal action.

Taking Legal Action: The litigation process involves discovery, negotiations, and potentially a trial. Outcomes can range from monetary compensation to changes in workplace policies. Your attorney will be important in representing you and navigating each stage.

Supporting Resources for Victims of Sexual Harassment

If you're navigating the aftermath of workplace sexual harassment, it's helpful to have access to resources that offer emotional and psychological support. Here are some key resources: 

National Hotlines and Counseling Services: Organizations like the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) provide confidential, 24/7 support. They can connect you with counseling services and support groups. 

Local Support Groups: Many communities have local support groups specifically for sexual harassment and assault survivors. These groups offer a space to share your experiences and receive support from others who understand what you're going through.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): If your employer offers an EAP, this program may include counseling services that can help you cope with the emotional impact of harassment.

 Mental Health Professionals: Seeking a therapist or counselor who specializes in trauma can be beneficial. They can provide personalized strategies to help you manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional effects of harassment.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak

If you believe you have been sexually harassed by your employer or coworker, or have concerns about the harassment of others, it's important to know your rights and seek legal advice from a competent and experienced sexual harassment attorney. Our firm specializes in sexual harassment cases and can help you in the steps to report workplace sexual harassment, navigate the legal system, and ensure that your rights are protected. Contact our employment attorneys at 415-693-0300 or send us an email to request your free consultation.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Every situation is different, and the laws surrounding sexual harassment can be complex. If you believe you have been sexually harassed, we urge you to contact our employment attorneys to discuss your specific situation and the legal options available to you.

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