Sexual Harassment – Top 10 Steps To Take If You Are a Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Ohio Sexual Harassment and Sex Discrimination Attorneys

As a reminder, Federal and Ohio law make it unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

In the event you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment, the following tips should provide some general guidance with respect to what you should do. Please note that each factual scenario is different, so the following are general tips and should not be taken as legal advice to your specific situation. For more information, please contact an employment attorney at Bryant Legal, LLC to discuss in more detail so that we can immediately protect your rights.

Top 10 Tips To Do If You Are a Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment:

(1) Do Not Ignore the Harassment

  • Talking about sexual harassment can be uncomfortable, but speaking up about it with other employees who may also be experiencing similar conduct can empower you.

(2) Make it Clear to the Harasser that the Conduct is Unwelcome

  • An essential element of a sexual harassment claim is that the conduct must be unwelcome. Harassers sometimes contend that their victims welcomed and enjoyed their words and actions. Although it can feel uncomfortable or even frightening to object, you must unequivocally tell the harasser to stop the behavior.

(3) Not All Offensive Behavior is Sexual Harassment under the law

  • As mentioned above, whether certain behavior constitutes sexual harassment is considered on a case-by-case basis. Thus, it is especially important to talk to a lawyer who knows about sexual harassment law and how to deal with such behavior.

(4) Keep Careful Notes on what happened, but not on employer-owned equipment

  • You should keep any notes, memos, letters, emails, textual messages, gifts, or other tangible evidence from the harasser. Be careful how and where you record your evidence. For example, communications using company equipment are not confidential and can be used against you. Other examples that can be used against you because it may contain person information is social media.

(5) Report and Oppose the Conduct Immediately

  • Why? Your report does two important things. First, it puts your employer on notice that the sexual harassment occurred. Second, it provides your employer with an opportunity to correct the problem and make it stop. If it does not stop, you still have legal options, but consult with a sexual harassment attorney first.

(6) Human Resources is Not on Your Side – Anything you tell HR can be revealed to others in the company

  • Do not assume that anything you tell them is going to be kept confidential. The HR department may report your complaint to their supervisors and to other managerial employees. Although Human Resources is ideally in place to help the company’s employees, often times it does not help. Rather, it makes a record against you to cover for the company. After all, the company also pays them as employees so HR employees have the company’s interest as the top priority.

(7) Do Not Quit Your Job

  • Quitting your job provides an employer with the argument that you did not give it enough time to correct the problem. Quitting could also affect your ability to recover your lost wages and make it even harder to collect unemployment benefits (due to “job abandonment”).

(8) Retaliation is Unlawful

  • You might have a stronger retaliation claim if you make a reasonable good faith complaint of harassment to your employer and your employer subsequently takes any “adverse action” against you because of the complaint.

(9) Keep Performing Your Job Well

  • Making a complaint about sexual harassment does not give you permission to stop performing your job to the best of your ability or excuse you from the same standards you had to meet before the conduct started or you complained. After all, Ohio is an at-will state. Thus, if you stop performing your job well, your employer has a “business justification” for taking adverse action against you.

(10) Get Legal Advice from an attorney who knows about sexual harassment law as soon as you can

  • Due to the fact that sexual harassment is a serious and often frightening experience, your rights need to be protected at every step of the way. Talk to an attorney who handles these matters and takes them just as seriously as you do. This is especially important if you are considering quitting your job.

For more information about your situation involving workplace sexual harassment, contact us today.

Ohio Retaliation Attorneys Update: New EEOC Enforcement Guidance Broadens Employee Protection

The purpose of this post is to provide a brief overview of how employees are protected from retaliation as well as how the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) enforcement guidance now provides even broader protection to employees.

At the end of this post, I have included a “Top 10 List” of conduct which is protected under the law. If you believe you have been retaliated against, the Ohio retaliation attorneys at Bryant Legal, LLC can make sure your rights are protected and asserted effectively.

Are You Protected from Retaliation under Federal and Ohio law? Yes.

If you, as an employee, engage in certain activity at work, it may be protected under federal and Ohio law. If your employer takes disciplinary action against you because you either opposed discrimination (or other conduct you believe to be unlawful) or participate in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing regarding the discrimination, it will likely be unlawful retaliation.

A. What is “Protected Activity?”

Federal and Ohio law have anti-retaliation provisions so that employees can be free from discipline and not discouraged from opposing discrimination in the workplace. It is important to understand the two major types of activity that provide employees with protection (“protected activity”). These anti-retaliation provisions protect two main types of activity:  (1) participation; and (2) opposition.

  • (1) Participation is defined as follows:
    • An individual is protected from retaliation for having made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Title VII, the ADEA, the EPA, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, or GINA. Participation may include, for example, filing or serving as a witness in an administrative proceeding or lawsuit alleging discrimination.
  • (2) Opposition is defined as follows:
    • An individual is protected from retaliation for opposing any practice made unlawful under the EEO laws. Protected “opposition” activity broadly includes the many ways in which an individual may communicate explicitly or implicitly opposition to perceived employment discrimination. The manner of opposition must be reasonable, and the opposition must be based on a reasonable good faith belief that the conduct opposed is, or could become, unlawful.

B. Can My Employer Retaliate Against Me? No. 

Many employment laws, whether they are under federal or Ohio law, have provisions which prohibit retaliation against their employees. Importantly, any employee, regardless of his or her status, has a private cause of action if he or she experiences retaliation.

Although each situation is different, your employer cannot retaliate against you. For example, if you oppose discrimination in the workplace (based on your reasonable belief) and your employer takes disciplinary action against you (e.g. write-ups, reduction of hours, termination, etc.), it may constitute unlawful retaliation. As  you can imagine, retaliation can occur against employees in a variety of situations and in all aspects of employment.

C. New EEOC Enforcement Guidance Broadens Protection for Employees

Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued its new enforcement guidance for claims of retaliation under laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Topics explained in the new guidance include:

  • The scope of employee activity protected by the law.
  • Legal analysis to be used to determine if evidence supports a claim of retaliation.
  • Remedies available for retaliation.
  • Rules against interference with the exercise of rights under the ADA.
  • Detailed examples of employer actions that may constitute retaliation.

With respect to examples of employer actions that may constitute retaliation, a non-exhaustive list of actions that constitute protected activity by the employee is below.

Top 10 List of Protected Activity:

  1. Complaining about discrimination against oneself or others
  2. Threatening to complain about discrimination against oneself or others
  3. Providing information in an employer’s investigation of discrimination or harassment
  4. Refusing to obey an order reasonably believed to be discriminatory
  5. “Passive resistance” – e.g. supervisor refusing a request to dissuade subordinates from filing EEO complaints. Just not acting on the request is considered protected.
  6. Advising an employer on EEO compliance
  7. Resisting harassing behavior – The EEOC gives the example of an employee telling a supervisor to “leave me alone” and “stop it.” The fact that it’s a supervisor seems important here because the supervisor’s knowledge is imputed to the employer.
  8. Intervening to protect others from harassing behavior – Again, the EEOC example involves a co-worker intervening to stop harassment by a supervisor.
  9. Requesting accommodation for a disability or religion
  10. Complaining that pay practices are discriminatory – There doesn’t need to be an explicit reference to discrimination. If a woman says her pay is unfair and asks what men in the job are being paid, the EEOC deems that protected.

If you have questions about retaliation and/or have been retaliated against by your employer, you should contact an employment attorney at Bryant Legal, LLC to help make sure your rights are protected and asserted appropriately.

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