Sexual harassment in the workplace—whether federal or not—is a huge problem. Every year, thousands of incidents are reported. But, unfortunately, many more incidents occur without notice because the victims are afraid to take action. Who will believe their story? How will they prove their case in the courtroom?
What is Sexual Harassment?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s sexual harassment webpage, “It is 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.”
Why Some May Choose Not To Report
Many sexual harassment victims feel that they’re all alone. Additionally, without witnesses to support their claims, they believe there is no way to convince a judge or jury that anything occurred.
Luckily, that is not the case. People understand that abusers know how to hide their actions, so they are willing to look past the fact that there are no witnesses. Rather, they look for credibility, i.e., consistency and details in a victim’s story, on which to assess its merits properly.
Recording Your Claim
If you’re a victim of sexual harassment, it is critical to your case that you document every single detail in order to give more weight to your version of events. This means keeping chronological notes in a spiral-ringed notebook where each entry is dated and each page is completely filled, so no challenge can be made that certain contents were inserted after the fact, texts, emails, phone records, and pictures. Keeping a diary or journal is another effective way to document any incidents of sexual harassment.
The following are several ways to strengthen your sexual harassment claim:
● Record each incident in a timely manner – When an incident occurs, do not wait until a day or two later to record it. As soon as the incident happens, write down everything in as much detail as possible, once you get off from work, while it is still fresh in your mind.
● Every detail matters – Not only should you include the actual events that transpired, but also the location, the time, the exact words used, what the harasser was wearing at the time, and anyone who may have been nearby.
● Be clear and concise – Make sure you tell the harasser that their actions are unwanted, offensive, and prohibited. Legally, that is the difference between actual harassment and an office flirtation. Document exactly what you said and did to discourage the harasser.
● Be assertive – You should immediately file a complaint with your employer’s EEO office, whether or not the harassment continues. Keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If this fails, file an informal EEO complaint within 45 calendar days of the harassment.
Ensure that you keep a copy of your journal in a safe place, away from the workplace. If your journal is in the form of an online document, back it up onto a cloud drive or a thumb drive (or both) for additional storage. A well-kept journal can help paint a clear picture of the sexual harassment you experienced at work to a jury in the event the case goes to trial.
Reporting Your Claim
With the help of a federal employment attorney, you can report your claims of sexual harassment in the workplace to your federal agency’s EEO office. The EEOC has created guidelines for federal agencies to respond to claims of sexual harassment or violence in the workplace, emphasizing the value of protecting the confidentiality of internal sexual harassment investigations.
If you are a federal employee and submit a claim of sexual harassment in the workplace, the EEOC has specific regulations, Management Directives, and Guidance to follow for your protection. These legal requirements aim to ensure that your agency promptly stops and corrects the harassment.
Additionally, each agency should be held responsible for:
● How it handles harassment and misconduct accusations,
● Punishing those who are found responsible, and
● Protecting accusers while their cases are being investigated.
According to DOJ’s antiharassment policies, for example, verified sexual harassment should lead to “a penalty ranging from a 15-day suspension to removal” from position for the harassing employee.
The department is also required to track each complaint by doing the following:
● Specify the nature of the claim, such as any aggravating factors
● Note whether and when it was reported to the inspector general and/or security
● List the disciplinary action taken
Critics argue that the new rules could be unevenly applied throughout the department, resulting in some employees lacking protection as their case is investigated and resolved. Each unit is in charge of deciding best how to enforce these directives.
What If I Am An Employee Of Another Federal Agency?
If you are a federal employee not employed by the DOJ, your federal agency also has safeguards for your protection. You may be able to find them on your federal agency’s website or you can consult an experienced federal employment attorney to learn more about how your agency is legally obligated to protect you.
The Aftermath Of Reporting Sexual Harassment In the Workplace
Sexual harassment is no joking matter. It can occur in all work environments, including federal jobs. It takes courage and determination to file a sexual harassment claim; unfortunately, once you have taken this step, things do not magically disappear. Despite disciplinary action or investigation, you are still affected by the other person’s misconduct even after it stops.
Returning to Work
Typically, there is a lingering effect of dis-ease and a feeling of hostility in the workplace after you have been the victim of sexual harassment. If this is the case, you deserve to take care of your mental health and well-being.
There are steps you can take to handle the aftermath, these include:
● Taking time off as needed
● Seeking therapy from a mental health professional
● Protecting your space by asking friends to stay close by or to be available
● Asking for resources for counseling or to have an ally in a higher-up position
As an employer, you can help victims of sexual harassment return to work feeling safe by doing the following:
● Accepting and confronting damage to the work environment, including damaged trust between co-workers, possible triggers of past experiences of other employees, a gap in the team, etc.
● Embracing survivors by giving them time to work through their emotions, giving them an ear to listen, and making other employees aware of the potential triggers, stumbles, etc.
● Providing resources such as counseling, training, or consultants on safe work environments
Top-Rated, Award-Winning Federal Employment Attorneys
Sexual harassment in the workplace is no joke and should not be taken lightly. Our top-rated, award-winning federal employment attorneys at The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC understand how you may feel nervous or uncomfortable coming forward and reporting the harassment you have faced. We are here to support you through this difficult time and help you file your report and receive the protection you deserve.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced federal employment attorneys today by calling (202) 350-3881.