By Chakeema Cruickshank, Staff Writer
Many women are afraid to report sexual harassment at work to Human Resources (HR) or to those in management. This can be due to the fear of retaliation, lack of support, or harassment coming from management to name a few. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 70% of women have been sexually harassed in a work setting.
Despite how often this may occur, many are afraid to speak up due to fear of retaliation. Federal and NJ state laws, however, protect against pushback. More specifically, Title VII expressly forbids an employer from retaliating against an individual for speaking out or filing a harassment charge.
If you are ever subject of sexual harassment at the workplace, it is important to remember that you are not alone. It can be incredibly difficult to know what to do first. One of the first steps is to make clear that the conduct is unwelcome and makes you uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it is typically not that simple. Therefore, some key things to keep in mind are to tell a trusted person, keep up to date records, and to know your rights and options for reporting.
Tell a trusted friend or other person.
Tell a trusted person about what happened when you feel comfortable sharing. This can help you process the situation and determine what next steps you want to take. Moreover, telling a trusted friend or loved one can provide some much needed support during this time.
Keep up to do date notes.
Keeping contemporaneous notes on the situation is incredibly important. Be as detailed and as specific as possible. Keep notes on what occurred, when, who, potential witnesses, and any additional details about the harassment. This may include messages, photos, or other documents.
This will be particularly useful when you decide to report the harassment. Furthermore, keep up to date records of any retaliation as well. Do not keep this record at your place of employment, instead store it in a safe place where you can safely add information as needed.
Know your options and report
Inform a trusted supervisor or the Human Resources department about what has happened. If the harassment is coming directly from a supervisor, contact the HR department or depending on your employer, you may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Ask for a paid leave.
If you need to remove yourself from a hostile workplace, whether or not you need medical or mental health care and a doctor supports the request, request a paid leave. At minimum, there will be a record of that. In the alternative, you should ask for the harasser to be removed from the workplace, or from any contact with you.
If you are a federal employee, you can contact an EEO counselor within 45 days to report. This will begin informal counseling. After that is complete, you can choose to file a formal complaint.
If you are a state or local employee, your employer may have specific procedures on reporting harassment. Since different employers have different guidelines, the first step is to check your employer’s policy or with HR. If there is no policy or nothing is being done, you can file a charge with the EEOC or with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
If you work in the private sector, you can report by filing a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days. Another option is filing with the NJ Division on Civil Rights as well.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention.
Employers have a vital role to play in protecting employees from sexual harassment at work. This can be done by clarifying expected behavior, instilling a workplace reporting system, supporting victims, and educating staff on proper workplace behavior.
It is important to ensure there is proper training for employees on workplace behavior. This means mandating sexual harassment training for everyone. Furthermore, ensure employees know of reporting systems and who to contact if unwanted conduct occurs.
If the reporting systems are inadequate, it adds hurdles and barriers to speaking up. Another option is for employers to offer the option of anonymous reporting.
We all have a role to play in reducing workplace sexual harassment. Whether being a trusted ear, instilling and promoting workplace policies, or supporting survivors, we all can help make our workplaces safer and more comfortable places to work.
Staff Writer Chakeema Cruickshank is currently a first year at Rutgers Law School Camden. Prior to Rutgers Law, she worked for United States Senator Robert Menendez doing constituent relations and outreach for education, environment, and technology.