LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (10/20/15) – After documenting the instances of sexual harassment and asking the offender(s) to stop, the next step is to involve your employer. (If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here.)
This is something that is hard to do because employees are naturally fearful of putting their reputation at stake, other employees finding out about the situation and gossiping, or even being fired, demoted, or otherwise negatively treated for “causing problems.” Even though retaliation is illegal in both Federal and state law (California Government Code, § 12940, subd. (h)), some employers will try to find a way around that and take negative action against an employee who reports sexual harassment. Some of them retaliate and get away with it because many employees simply don’t know their rights or the laws behind them. Some employers also don’t know the laws themselves and do not handle a sexual harassment complaint properly, even if they are fair and even-handed employers who mean no harm.
These are all reasons why a California sexual harassment attorney is essential to your case. And not just a mammoth firm that will take cases all around the country (even if they don’t have an office in every state). You need a California sexual harassment lawyer because they are specifically experienced in working with California’s state laws, not just a generalist employment lawyer from a large firm who mainly works with Federal laws since they are applicable in every state. When it comes to choosing sexual harassment attorneys to consult, if you are interested in using a big national firm, make sure their firm at least has an office in California, preferably in a large city (example: Los Angeles) as sexual harassment lawyers in large cities will have the most exposure to these types of cases.
So why do you have to report sexual harassment to your employer? Because if you are going to sue your employer for sexual harassment, you need to give them a chance to investigate your claims and remedy the situation. You also need to exhaust all resources your employer offers regarding sexual harassment, not just tell them you are being sexually harassed and immediately begin a lawsuit.
So how do you approach reporting sexual harassment to your employer? First of all, most large and mid-sized employers have a company employee handbook (either an actual physical handbook, an online handbook on your employer’s intranet, or both). Small employers may have them too. Read your company’s employee handbook to find out what your employer’s policy on sexual harassment is so you know what steps to take.
If your employer does not have a company employee handbook, that does not mean they don’t have a policy on dealing with sexual harassment and you can skip making a sexual harassment complaint. They are allowed to have an informal policy as long as they communicate it to their employees.
At the very least, all California employers are required to (a) display a Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) published poster regarding sexual harassment laws in the workplace and/or (b) give employees a DFEH published pamphlet regarding sexual harassment laws or (c) develop their own documents that contain equivalent information and distribute those to employees.
If there is a handbook, remember to keep yours or print it out in case you feel your employer has not addressed or is not addressing the problem in a satisfactory manner and you want to consult a California sexual harassment attorney. If there is no handbook, save documents such as memorandums regarding your employer’s sexual harassment policies if there are any. If there are no memorandums or written examples of their sexual harassment policies, ask someone in authority at your company (supervisor, human resources professional, owner, etc.) what their sexual harassment policy is and keep notes complete with date of your conversation. You can also email someone in authority to pose the question so as to hopefully receive a written description of their sexual harassment policy in email format to print out.
The next step is to do your very best to follow all your employer’s procedures regarding sexual harassment complaints and assess the results. Your employer may handle your complaint in a manner that you believe follows the law, is satisfactory to you, and your employment situation goes back to normal, so you won’t have any need to file a lawsuit. However, in many cases, sexual harassment victims do not believe their employer has investigated and/or resolved their sexual harassment complaint correctly. Sometimes sexual harassment victims just don’t know if their employer acted according to law when investigating their sexual harassment complaint. A California sexual harassment attorney will be able to help you determine whether your employer has an adequate policy on dealing with sexual harassment, whether your employer handled or is handling your complaint in a legally acceptable manner, and whether you have exhausted all avenues regarding allowing your employer to address the situation.
A California sexual harassment lawyer who regularly handles sexual harassment cases in the workplace is the best judge of all when it comes to figuring out these issues, so do not hesitate to contact an experienced California sexual harassment lawyer at any point in the process for a consultation and advice about how to proceed.
Now that you have a history of what has been happening and given your employer a chance to remedy the situation, the next step before filing a private lawsuit is to report your complaint to the appropriate authorities, allow them to investigate, and obtain a Right-To-Sue Notice, which will be covered in Part 3 of this series.