How to Move Forward as a Victim of Sexual Harassment

How to Move Forward: For Victims 

While moving forward for businesses and employers means taking the time to learn from an instance of sexual harassment in an effort to improve the workplace, victims move forward in an effort to heal from the harm harassment causes. This can be incredibly crucial and just as important as any other stage. The legal proceedings and punishments for the harassers can provide closure, but they do not always allow victims to completely deal with what happened to them and heal.

This article will look at what victims can do to help themselves and heal after a sexual harassment case. As with the previous lesson, this will include the potential outcomes of a case and what they may mean for victims. Further legal action, options for formal help, and the impact the situation may have on them professionally will also be discussed.

Outcome of Case Proceedings 

The victims are one of the two major parties that will be directly involved in the proceedings of a sexual harassment case, and therefore will be one of the two who are impacted by its outcome the most. Depending on how the case goes during the legal process, there are likely going to be several outcomes that might happen. They can include the following.

Settlements -- In most cases, settlements are reached outside of any courtroom verdicts and can be proposed to victims by their harassers before the case even goes to trial. Settlements are sometimes viewed as a negative thing because they are viewed as a means for a harasser to "buy" a victim's silence. Many of the sexual harassment scandals being discussed in the news in the last few years involve instances of harassment that are up to thirty years old. The victims were quickly offered a settlement arrangement with conditions of confidentiality. They're designed to allow a legal case of harassment a quick and relatively quiet means of coming to a conclusion. Most settlements involve more than just money like different legal agreements and terms like non-disclosure agreements.

Punitive and Compensatory Damages -- When a business or employer is found at fault for the harassment, they may be ordered to reward the victim with damages or compensation. These will be determined by the court and the EEOC, and they are based on the ruling of the case and the degree of liability determined by the court. Most of the time, the compensation will include payment for back and front pay, lost benefits like sick pay, bonuses, etc., money for the victim's "pain and suffering" from the harassment, and to punish the responsible parties. The amount that a person can expect depends on the staff size of the employers. For example, the maximum is $300,000 if the business has over 500 employees or $50,000 if there are 15-100 employees. Attorney and other court fees may also be covered under the damages and the party held responsible in the case will pay for everyone's, barring that the fees are not unreasonable.

Restoration of Position in the Workplace -- Victims who have been fired from their position or were demoted may also be able to return to that position per the court ruling or legal agreement. Any alterations to a person's position in the workplace can be a result of the harassment itself or from retaliation for reporting, speaking up, etc. about the harassment. This might also include instances where victims quit in an effort to escape their harasser but it may be dependent on the circumstances. Employers may be ordered to offer victims their original position even if the employer was the harasser since they may be deemed complicit in the harassment based on their response to it. A victim is not required to take their old job back if it is offered but the option is still given to them to do with it what they will.

There are also additional possibilities of what can happen after the end of a sexual harassment case regardless of the nature of the ruling or its details. These can be a result of an agreement, the court's official ruling, or both.

Confidentiality Agreements -- A confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a formal agreement that states what the involved parties can publicly say about the case. NDA's may come into play when a person is first hired to a job in order to protect company assets and information from being given out to competitors by the new employee. They can be a bit more complicated than that, and there's some debate about whether they are a good or bad thing in sexual harassment cases. For the most part, NDAs are viewed as a means of silencing victims as they prevent them from saying anything about the harassment in the event of a settlement. However, they have also been viewed as a legal way to keep unwanted public attention away from victims as they try to move on from the case. They can be a very appealing option for victims who are already hurting and feeling humiliated and don't want to worsen those feelings through extra scrutiny that comes in a court trial.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Workplace Sexual Harassment in the #MeToo Era course?
Option of Appeal -- It is possible that a sexual harassment case might not be found in favor of the victim in which the case is then dismissed. This does not necessarily mean that that there are no more legal options available to them. Appealing the outcome is an option for both any court and EEOC rulings. With the EEOC, an appeal can be filed against the agency's final decision or if the complaint is dismissed, and must be done within 30 days of their decision. Information on how to do this and where to submit your appeal can be found at the following website ( Civil and criminal cases require a valid reason, for example, legal errors, and an appeal must also be filed within 30 days of the court's decision.



Restraining Orders -- Restraining orders against the harasser may be placed by the court. Also known as an Order of Protection, these can be temporary, about 10 days, or can be set to last for a number of months or years. They can only be issued by the court and usually detail the restrictions on contact between the parties involved. Its protections can also extend to members of the protected party's family. There may be a few very specific conditions in which the parties can have contact like during court meetings and what counts as a violation of the order.

Countersuits -- Those accused of sexual harassment (the defendants) may file a countersuit claim against the victims (the plaintiffs), which can happen while the original case is in progress or even after the case has come to a close. In many cases, this could be a retaliatory action and can be challenged by the plaintiff as a part of the initial suit if filed during the course of the case. This is legally within their (the plaintiff's) rights to file a countersuit and there is always a possibility, but not a guarantee, that it could happen.


Seeking Help

The legal proceedings for a sexual harassment case may be cathartic for the victim since it is an opportunity to be heard and see justice for what happened. However, it doesn't always allow for complete healing. It is often encouraged that victims of harassment in any form seek additional help. This doesn't necessarily mean professional help like counseling but that is an option that some may need to consider. The severity of the circumstances of the harassment may mean that seeking help is necessary and that can be done at any point in time. You don't have to wait for the legal portions of your case to run their course. If you need it, get it.

Find Your Support System -- Support systems are an important thing when a person has gone through any kind of hardship or distress. These are the people in your life you trust and who are going to be there for you. They are the ones you can talk to when you need someone to talk to about what has happened and/or is happening. A support system should include people who you are familiar with and can also include members of your legal team who are working on your case like lawyers, professional representatives, etc. Your support system can also be made up of people from your personal and professional lives.

Counseling -- Sexual harassment can be traumatic and that trauma does need to be addressed. Victims often have a lot of emotional and mental anguish about the harassment and may struggle to properly process it on their own. Counseling options are available that specialize in harassment and the different forms it takes and can help address its effects in a healthy way. Most insurance plans cover psychiatric counseling and other mental health services. There are also free counseling options from non-profit organizations that are designed to help those affected by sexual harassment and violence, such as the National Association of Working Women and RAINN.

Medical Care -- Psychological trauma from sexual harassment can produce physical health conditions that require medical care, including sleep and gastrointestinal disorders. However, sexual harassment in the workplace can include sexual assault and violence, which can have a significant impact on the physical health of the victim that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. This includes having any injuries like cuts, contusions, etc. from the harassment treated and formally documented by a medical professional. In the event of sexual assault, medical care can also address the potential of STD and/or STI exposure and for women, pregnancy, and administer testing and treatment options to victims in addition to documenting the trauma.


In Your Career

Previous lessons have touched on how sexual harassment may negatively impact the future of a victim's career, as many victims do choose to quit rather than remaining in the workplace or industry where they are harassed. Part of this is because of how the workplace addresses or fails to address the harassment and instances of retaliation. Yet there are many who do remain on their chosen career path after the close of their sexual harassment case. However, that does not mean that there isn't any impact on their careers whatsoever.

Documentation in Your Employee Personnel File -- Within the workplace where the harassment occurred, documentation by the business into the case may be retained. This is usually kept for legal purposes, either by HR or by their legal department. However, there may be some reference to documentation found elsewhere or copies of certain documentation placed in your employee file. This isn't necessarily done with any negative intentions but to document and track events within the company pertaining to that particular employee. Under law, your personnel file is confidential and you can request access to it to see what's inside even if you are no longer an employee there.

Professional Reputation -- One of the concerns that victims of sexual harassment in the workplace have about coming forward is the impact their claims can have on their professional reputation. These cases are not private affairs in which all of the details are kept quiet unless in instances of an NDA and even then, only until it is signed by all parties. Going public with your claims, whether it's in society, the industry you work in, or just the workplace, can attract attention and opinions from those who are not involved in the case in any way. It is something that can happen and is one of the biggest reasons why victims do not report workplace harassment and choose to agree to settlements.

Case Disclosure to Future Employers -- There are certain things that employers cannot disclose or say about you when contacted by potential employers when you apply for a job. Legally, they can confirm that you were an employee, your positions within the company, and the dates of your employment. However, some employers do illegally give more information than they are legally allowed to in some instances, which may be a cause for concern for those who are job hunting after filing a sexual harassment complaint in a previous job. This can be seen as retaliation and legal action can be taken against them in such an instance. Potential employers may still be able to legally find out about a past sexual harassment claim or lawsuit that you were involved in but typically, only that there was one. Internet searches and background checks look at public records, which can include court cases and criminal charges. They might still ask about it possibly to determine if there was any illicit activity on your part that could legally impede your hiring or that you withheld from your application, or to confirm what they find. However, you do not have to disclose any details especially if there's an NDA involved. They also cannot deny your application for a job based on past harassment claims made since this would be considered a form of discrimination and could result in legal penalties if discovered.