Employment Discrimination Help

What You Need to Know if You Believe You Are Sexually Harassed At Work

Author: Employment Discrimination attorney Alena Shautsova

Sexual Harassment

2017/10/16

From Hollywood to the White House, the US is shaking from the reports of the outrageous behavior of its most talented and powerful men. Yet, in almost every case the victims remained silent for decades.

Sexual abusers usually are very well aware and count that their acts will not be reported. They prey on victims who are in a dependent situation (inspiring actresses, interns, young associates, etc.); often the abusers explicitly or implicitly tell their victims that reports of the harassment would instead ruin the victim’s future. This is not so, and here is why.

First, not every man at power is a sexual harasser. It means that victims may and will find other employment, options, and opportunities if they choose to quit and leave the positions. Second, in today’s society, at least in the US, with the right help, a woman will be able to prevail, and the law does protect her from the retaliation. But for the law to work, the victim has to report the harassment. Third and last, to give in and decide to tolerate the harassment (unless you are ultimately enjoying it) would mean to scar yourself for life. A woman (or a man) would have to make a choice: to make a move and object or to give in and be victimized until the rest of their lives. It is not an easy choice, but one has to understand the consequences of both options.

I spoke with many women who shared that at the beginning of their careers they experienced various forms of harassment and retaliation. Now, decades later, they still remember it, it still hurts, and they regret deeply that they did not have someone by their side who would encourage them to report the outrageous behavior.

So, what you need to know is that cases of sexual harassment are subject to Federal Title VII Act, which prohibits harassment and retaliation at work. You can complain if you are harassed by colleagues, supervisors or customers. Ideally, you need to present your objections in writing to the company that employs you. If you are not comfortable doing so, you have to complain directly to the local Division of Human Rights or EEOC. The EEOC option is better but only works if the employer has 15 and more employees. In New York, an employer of any size (even if it is only your boss and you) will be subject to New York State Sexual Harassment laws.

There are no magic words you need to put in your letter. You can state: on such and such date, so and so told me this… I do not like that; I would like that such comments/behavior/proposals would stop.

When you are objecting, you are bearing a risk of retaliation. The law protects complainants from the retaliation in that you will be able to recover lost wages and damages for your emotional distress, and maybe even punitive damages, but only if you can prove that the act of termination/demotion/ retaliatory harassment happened after your complaint.

It is O’K to take some time to think about your complaint, but not too long. The law states that you have only 300 days to complain about harassment if your employer has 15 or more employees and will be subject to Federal laws; and only 180 days if your employer is a small employer and will be subject to only local laws.

Many have questioned why Angelina Jolie and others spoke about Weinstein only now, decades later. I believe they did it now because the climate is right. Remember, that less famous women spoke about it as well. Also, remember that many preferred not to speak and stated that “they had no idea.” The point is that all these ladies could simply state that Weinstein was a great person, but they chose to tell the truth. They did it not to become more famous, and not to sue him and make money, but because it still hurts. You can have this discomfort with you for decades, or you can report it, and defend yourself.

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