How to Process a Claim of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Nothing can be accomplished regarding sexual harassment in the workplace if a formal report isn't filed. The idea of reporting an instance of sexual harassment actually isn't the first thing on people's minds when it happens to them. This isn't just because the circumstances can be jarring and unsettling but because most do not understand that filing a claim is a valid option available to them. Even if your particular workplace lacks an effective reporting system for harassment and discrimination, if it even has one to begin with, there are other authorities that can be notified in order for action to be taken.
This lesson will look into the early stages of filing a claim of sexual harassment in the workplace or other professional setting. This will include a review of what information needs to be submitted, how to determine where or who to go to, and the process of actually filing your reports. Keep in mind that this can vary based on the circumstances of the situation, the setup of the business, its policies and procedures, and the federal requirements for claims. What is listed here should apply on a general basis with room for the specific details of a particular case.

Gather Your Information to Report

It's up to you whether you are going to report sexual harassment when it happens at work. Going forward with the report does require some information about what happened, as discussed in previous lessons. This will include what happened, when and where, and who was involved in the incident like you, the harasser, witnesses, etc. With harassment that has been happening for some time before a report is made, you should make sure that you also have enough information about when it started and when the most recent instance was. Having this information before you start the formal procedure within the workplace for reporting sexual harassment will allow you to be a bit more prepared and can allow the process to go faster and/or more smoothly.

You should also gather information about the sexual harassment laws in your state that will be pertinent to your case. In part, this is for your benefit to know what protections are in place for you and what may be involved on a legal level with your case. With this information, you may be able to identify what if any additional information or documentation you may need for making a formal complaint or case outside of the workplace, as well as what legal options are specific to your state. Information pertaining to sexual harassment laws can also help you identify what happened as sexual harassment versus other forms of harassment or just generally inappropriate behavior all of which may still need to be reported.

Procedure With The Workplace

Every business should have a system in place for reporting issues within the workplace, including for instances of harassment and discrimination that occur therein. This is a formal procedure that should be unbiased and offer the option of anonymity. In most cases, the reporting system will go through the business' Human Resources (HR) or a similar department and/or group that is assigned to handle complaints. Determining where or who to go to can usually be done by looking at the business' policies on harassment and reporting, which should be made accessible to all members of staff. Such information can typically be found in your Employee Handbook that possibly was given at the start of your employment or with the HR department.

Some people mistakenly view the filing of an internal report as being similar to a lawsuit. While both do require paperwork and information pertaining to the issue at hand, you don't need to have any kind of legal representation like a lawyer involved when making a report. However, you can consult with an attorney about your case and get legal advice about the matter if you want, especially if there's the potential for a criminal investigation or civil suit. If you are in a union, you may also want to consult with your representative about the situation for the same reasons and/or for moral support as the case progresses.

Part of the procedure may dictate that you take additional actions before filing a complaint. You can also do this on your own in order to notify the appropriate authorities in the business of the problem and have them address it before the situation escalates and it may also help start the process of reporting. Much of the procedure for reporting sexual harassment can include the following.

Speak to management, senior staff, etc. In many cases, the process of addressing sexual harassment in the workplace can start as soon as someone within the business is notified about what's going on. Remember that employers cannot do anything about sexual harassment in the workplace if they don't know that it's happening and it's not just because they're not paying attention. Talking to someone who has seniority over your harasser, especially if that person has seniority over you, can allow them to take action and reprimand the harasser. While not everyone you could talk to will be as effective as you want them to be, doing so can at least get things started and be a part of your documentation for the harassment.

Contact your work's human resources department. The Human Resources department, or HR, is a fairly standard part of most business operations and structuring. A smaller business, however, might not due to the nature of their size and/or budgetary restrictions that prevent the formation of one. The staff in HR will have the necessary knowledge and resources available for addressing all forms of harassment in the workplace. They will often be the ones to handle any instances, maintain policies, receive claims and reports, and set up training sessions. Communicating with them about what's going on or what's happened can allow you direct access to the help that they can offer. It is possible that your work's HR department might not be as well-equipped as what you want or need. HR itself isn't perfect and the management of a business can impact its efficiency.



Actually file the report. Nothing can go further in the process if a complaint or report doesn't get filed. Without a report, there can't be any legal action taken against the harasser, including criminal charges, civil suits, and EEOC investigations and charges. A report is going to be in the form of a written document detailing all of the relevant information of the harassment. It will either be written by you and submitted to HR or whomever is responsible for handling reports at your work, or by a representative from HR during a sit-down meeting in which you relay the information to them. Preferably, try to go with the first option rather than the second to ensure that your side in the matter is being recorded as your perspective shows.

Once the complaint is filed in the workplace, employers are required by law to look into the matter, determine if and what occurred, if it was against policy and/or illegal, and what course of action to take in terms of punishment. This is because employers are legally liable for the actions or inaction of management staffers like supervisors and department heads. There is also liability with the employer for any kind of harm or threat of harm that their employees may face in the workplace, which includes harassment, under federal guidelines.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Workplace Sexual Harassment in the #MeToo Era course?
An investigation into a claim of sexual harassment is usually prompted by the filing of a formal report. The investigated procedure for this part of the process can vary based on the size of the business, the nature of the complaint, and legal factors, such as the right to privacy, etc. Typically, it involves looking at what information is given in the report and verifying it. This can be done through interviews with the involved parties, including the accused harasser, victim, and any witnesses. Any evidence, such as messages like texts, emails, notes, call logs, etc. plus outside reports like police or medical records may also be used. Businesses who have cameras on the premises for security purposes might use any footage of the harassment as it occurred. If there is any evidence collected, it cannot be in violation of an employees' right to privacy like nothing removed without permission from private devices or security footage of private areas like bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Failure to do so could bring about legal consequences for the business and possibly the victim since the accused harasser or anyone else who has their privacy violated in the course of the investigation could have grounds for a lawsuit.

Filing A Claim With The EEOC

Workplace harassment cases can also be reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Typically, the EEOC will be informed of an instance of sexual harassment in the workplace by the employer and/or the victim whenever a complaint is filed within the business. A claim with the EEOC cannot be made until that happens and an EEOC Counselor contacts the victim about how to file in their EEOC claim. Once notified, a victim has 15 business days to file, excluding Saturday, Sunday, and federal holidays. The claim should include the following information.

Your Identity, etc. (your information, including name and contact information)

Details of the Harassment -- Again, the information pertaining to the who, what, when, and where of the harassment. This should also include any retaliatory actions taken against you by your employer for reporting the harassment. This should be closer to a summary of what happened, rather than a full narration of events.

Reasoning for Harassment -- The circumstances in which you were harassed, possibly discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, etc.

Harm -- What injuries, physical, mental, and/or emotional, have you suffered as a result of the harassment. This should also be summed up.

Signature -- You and/or your lawyer should sign the complaint.

You can send the complaint to the EEOC per the instructions they give you and you will be notified via letter that it has been received. Based on the information in your complaint, the EEOC will choose to dismiss or investigate your claim. For the latter option, the agency has 180 days to investigate starting from the day you filed and can be extended another 90 or 180 days respectively by your request or if additional complaints are added like more instances. At the conclusion of the investigation, you will be given the following two options to determine if there was harassment.

A Hearing -- This will be a formal hearing overseen by an administrative judge from the EEOC. They will interpret the findings of the investigation to reach a conclusion.

Agency Decision -- Instead of a judge interpreting the findings, it will be the EEOC itself.

If the investigation does not conclude within the timeframe allotted, you are allowed to either request a hearing or file a federal lawsuit. Regardless, if the EEOC's investigation shows that there was harassment, then those they deem liable, the harasser and/or your employer, may be charged and expected to pay a fine. You will then have the option to take further legal action, including reaching a settlement agreement overseen by the agency. However, in the event of an agency-aided settlement, the EEOC must approve the settlement agreement as well.

Should You Sue?

Choosing to take legal action like filing a civil suit is also seen as a part of the claim process. Taking this option typically is going to be tied to what happens during the earlier stages, including the business' and EEOC's investigations. If there has been an EEOC investigation, you cannot file a civil suit until their investigation comes to a conclusion and you are given Notice of Right to Sue. You then have 90 days to do so starting from when you were given Notice and no less than 60 days after you filed your complaint with the EEOC. This is a legal requirement. If you are not given Notice or are outside of the allowed timeframe, then a civil suit may be blocked.