Guest post by Terin Barbas Cremer, Esq. for Key Associates, Inc. Originally published February 20, 2018
On October 15, 2017, Actress Alyssa Milano’s “#MeToo” tweet brought the sexual harassment conversation into American homes and beyond. Women who had faced sexual harassment or assault were encouraged to tweet “#MeToo” to bring awareness to the magnitude of the problem. During the first 24 hours, #MeToo was tweeted more than 500,000 times and the hashtag was used in 12 million Facebook posts. Facebook reported that 45% of users in the United States had a friend who posted a #MeToo status. So, chances are, you or someone you know can say “#MeToo.”
Conversations around sexual harassment, #MeToo, responses by Hollywood and D.C., and so-on have continued. Through the conversations sparked by #MeToo, it has become obvious that historically sexual harassment victims have been told or feel they should be quiet and tolerate it. Yet sexual harassment is always illegal. What should you do if you have been or are the current victim of sexual harassment?
How should you respond to a #MeToo situation at work? Consider taking the following steps:
- Obtain Legal Representation. Meet with an experienced plaintiff’s employment attorney who can help you understand your rights and take the steps below. Just because you have hired a lawyer does not mean that you must file a lawsuit; rather it helps you become informed about of your options.
- Say “No”. Inform the harasser, in writing, that his/her behavior offends you. Keep a copy of this written communication. Ideally, he or she didn’t know their contact was unwanted and will stop.
- As soon as possible after the incident, document the relevant occurrences on a personal device (i.e., not your work computer or email). Outline dates, places, times, and possible witnesses to what happened. Ask any witnesses to write down what they saw or heard. Keep your notes succinct and based on fact rather than emotion, since these documents could be used in legal proceedings.
- Most employers have policies and procedures outlined in their handbooks for reporting harassment. Ensure that you take ALL the steps outlined by your employer to report the harassment. Generally, this means reporting the behavior to your supervisor or human resources department in writing and requesting relief. At the very least, following your employer’s complaint procedures will demonstrate that your employer was aware of the harassment. Document that the report was made in your personal notes and keep copies of your written report and any communications between you and your employer.
- If you belong to a union, work through the grievance process with your union representative. Review your collective bargaining agreement for policies and procedures on grievances for harassment.
- File an EEOC Complaint.Prior to filing a lawsuit in federal or state court, you must first file a formal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) and/or your state’s fair employment agency. Under federal law, you may have up to 300 days from an act of sexual harassment to file a complaint with the EEOC.
- Lawsuit. After you file a formal complaint with the EEOC and/or your state’s employment agency, you may choose to file a lawsuit. While remedies will vary and are never guaranteed, they may include money damages, reinstatement in your position, backpay, or changes to your employer’s practices.
Through movements such as #MeToo, women and men are coming forward to redefine and reestablish acceptable behavior in the workplace. If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, there are steps you can take to stop the problem and protect your right to a legal resolution. Although it may feel that a sexual harasser took away any choice you had, knowing how to respond if sexual harassment occurs puts the decision of what happens next in your hands.