Jenna, a recent college graduate, thought she hit the jackpot with her job employment at a mid-size marketing firm-the salary was good, the projects were challenging, and the office environment was friendly and casual. Her transition into the corporate world was going smoothly, until she started getting inappropriate sexually suggestive emails from Paul, one of her coworkers. At first she thought it was just a miscommunication, but the emails, which made her more and more uncomfortable, didn’t stop. When she told her friend in the office that she was thinking about filing a complaint, her friend advised against it. “I don’t know,” she said, in hushed tones, after checking around the cubicle. “Paul is friendly with a lot of upper management. It’ll just be your word against his.”
Chad’s relationship with his husband, Steve, had gradually deteriorated over time. Steve’s increasingly aggressive behavior escalated into physical confrontations. Chad wanted to go to the police, but was hesitant because Steve never left any visible signs of injury. One night, Chad anticipated a confrontation, and hid a video camera in the bookshelf before Steve returned home – it recorded Steve hitting Chad soon after that.
In both situations, and thousands like them, making and keeping the documentation is crucial to “prove your case” and avoid the “she said, he said” that will inevitably result from reporting harassment or physical abuse. While some computer specialists can try to recover deleted emails and texts, the process can be costly and there’s no guarantee. The more complete your records, the stronger the complaint will be.
But increasingly sophisticated technology allows for the careful editing of these communications. To make sure that your evidence is genuine – and credible, you should keep records or the entire communication or event, including emails or texts sent by you. This not only makes your version of events more credible, but “covers” you if the other person claims that “you started, provoked or encouraged” his or her behavior. Being able to show “both sides” will surely help your case, because it makes you appear more honest and believable, whether it’s presented to the HR department or to a judge. Having an organized, untampered archive of communications or events gives you a tremendous advantage in protecting yourself in the scenarios described above and any in which your physical and emotional health are at risk. With the collaboration of Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and will soon serve as Managing Research Editor of that publication.