Law Office of Alan Kansas, LLC

What Steps Should I Take If I Feel That I Have Been Sexually Harassed In The Workplace?

The first step is to preserve evidence of the harassment. The second step is to make an effective complaint. The sooner you can discuss the case with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer, the better off you will be.

If you are being sexually harassed, you need to do what you can to preserve the evidence. If the harassment involves offensive emails, text messages, pictures posted on the wall or on people’s computer screens anything where there is potentially physical or electronic evidence you want to preserve that evidence. Do not delete the text messages, do not throw away or trade in the cellphone that has the text messages. If you get offensive emails in your work account, consider printing them out or forwarding them to your personal account unless that would violate some sort of computer use policy the employer has firmly established at the workplace. Use that camera on your phone to take pictures of offensive notes or drawings on the walls. Use your head. Be creative, but don’t break your employer’s rules or give the employer some reason to act against you. For example, don’t hack into the human resources files. If you think you need to go that far, you really need to talk to an attorney.

In situations that don’t involve some sort of tangible or electronic pictures or other evidence that you can gather – such as verbal comments or offensive touching or groping that was not caught on videotape – you want to create a note or a record of exactly what happened. Be factual. Write down the who what, when, where, and how. A lot of employees keep notepads or diaries and this works great. You write down what happened as soon as you can and remember that those notes will be produced to the other side in any kind of lawsuit. They can be requested by human resources so you want to stick to the facts. If there are witnesses who saw what happened, like friendly co-workers, you want to ask them did you see that? Did you hear that? Ask them to write a statement or at least to send you an email describing what they saw or heard. Any kind of record that you can make of what that person saw and heard is going to help you. And always keep copies of everything you give to your employer.

Alan Kansas, Esq.

Get your questions answered. Call Now at
(504) 300-0071. I will get back to you soon.

There are a lot of surveillance cameras in workplaces today that may capture video evidence of harassment. You should make detailed notes of the time of any sexual harassment incident and the relative location of any surveillance cameras in the area so that you can ask the company to preserve the evidence. But do not make the mistake of relying on the company and its cameras to protect you. Surveillance videos are notoriously blurry and usually without audio. So there always seems to be a dispute about what the tape shows. The recording might also be erased by the time the employer gets your complaint and has a chance to pull the tape. Plus, the company has exclusive access to the tapes, and you cannot demand access until discovery in litigation that may not begin for a year or more.

So, once you have taken steps to preserve evidence, you need to make an effective complaint. This means deciding what, when, and how to report. These are not one size fits all answers. It is important to get these details right because they often set the case on path toward a certain resolution. To make the right choices, you need to understand the legal issues involved in the case and consider your personal circumstances. Is your primary focus keeping the job and making the harassment stop, or are you already so dissatisfied with the job that you never want to go back? What are your prospects for getting a new job? Are you financially prepared to deal with a loss of your job income? Are you willing to go to court on your case? All of these questions need to be analyzed along with the legal issues to determine the best path forward. This is something I help clients do all the time because filing a lawsuit and fighting it out in court is not the best option for every client in every case.

If you decide not to seek legal advice before making a complaint, the most important thing I can tell you is to make your report in writing and keep a copy for yourself. The extent of an employer’s obligation to respond depends on the information it receives in the complaint. So, generally you want to report everything and have a record of everything that was reported. Many times, I have dealt with situations where the victim of the harassment relied on verbal complaints to friendly coworkers or managers. Maybe they thought the “low-key” approach would be less stressful or intimidating, or that they were less likely be retaliated against with this approach. But this is almost always a mistake. The verbal report is almost always incomplete and the person who received the report is almost always going to miss some details when relaying the information to HR. If something is important and you want it investigated, you need to make sure the information gets into the right hands and that you have proof it got there. That is why you want to do it in writing.

Are Sexual Harassment Cases Only Civil In Nature?

Yes. A sexual harassment case under federal Title VII law or the Louisiana Anti-Discrimination Law is a civil case where the plaintiff is asking the court to award monetary relief. Plaintiffs can also ask the court to order the defendant to end the harassment, reinstate the plaintiff to a job, and to take other actions to remediate the effects of discrimination – such as requiring the employer to conduct training for employees on sexual harassment. But there are no jail sentences. There are many sexual harassment cases where the harassment was also a criminal act such as sexual assault or even rape. Those criminal claims would be handled separately through the criminal justice system. So, in the case of an assault or a rape, many sexual harassment victims make criminal complaints against the offender.

What Is The Employer’s Responsibility After Being Notified Of Sexual Harassment?

In general the employer is required to take prompt and appropriate remedial action. Usually the first thing to do is to investigate to determine what happened. Employers need to make sure that they are doing a fair and reasonably thorough investigation. The investigation should be kept secret to the extent possible and employee witnesses should be reminded to maintain confidentiality. Beyond the investigation, the employer’s obligation is to make sure the harassment stops. Because it is often so difficult to determine what really happened, employers often look to act to stop a problem even without admitting that sexual harassment occurred. It will depend on the circumstances, but there is no rule that says the harasser must be fired. The courts have said that even in situations where a company finds that someone is likely to have been engaged in sexual harassment, the company can take disciplinary action well short of firing the employee as long as the action appears reasonably designed to make the harassment stop.

Who Can Be Held Liable in A Sexual Harassment Case?

Typically, the company is the party potentially liable. The courts have rejected employee efforts to sue individual harassers for sexual harassment under Title VII and the Louisiana Anti-Discrimination Law. Of course, if the harasser is guilty of a physical assault, offensive touching or harmful physical contact, the victim can sue the harasser for assault and battery. Deciding when to include this type of claim in a case is often a strategic decision.

For more information and legal answers on the Nature Of Sexual Harassment, get help by calling (504) 300-0071 today.

Alan Kansas, Esq.

Get your questions answered. Call Now at
(504) 300-0071. I will get back to you soon.

Related Articles