The frequency with which sexual harassment occurs in the workplace has recently been front and center, due in large part due to the #MeToo movement. However, the #MeToo movement merely brought this issue into the light; workplace sexual harassment and abuse regularly occur in workplaces across the country at alarming rates.
While people are more aware of the harms caused by sexual harassment in the workplace, this unacceptable behavior still continues. Oregon and Washington both have laws addressing workplace sexual harassment. Depending on the situation, the party engaging in the harassing conduct or the employer could be liable for monetary damages.
What Are Your Rights?
While many people associate sexual harassment with the acts of an employer, employees frequently engage in sexual harassment of other employees. Understandably, the thought of dealing with sexual harassment from a colleague is challenging. On one hand, you want the conduct to stop in its tracks. However, you may also fear that reporting a fellow employee will harm your image with your employer and may limit your upward mobility within the company.
While these concerns are certainly valid, under state law, an employee who reports sexual harassment (stemming from an employer or a colleague) cannot have it held against them at work. If an employee suffers any adverse employment consequences as a result of their reporting sexual harassment, the employer can be liable through a retaliation lawsuit.
Employees experiencing sexual harassment from coworkers can pursue a hostile work environment claim against their employer. You may be able to proceed in a claim against the employee individually as well. Generally, to succeed on a hostile work environment claim, an employee must show that their coworker’s conduct was “severe and pervasive” to the point that it created a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment. So while petty insults may not give rise to a hostile work environment claim, the aggregate effect of daily insults can result in an employer’s liability.
How to Deal with Sexual Harassment
There are important steps to follow when dealing with sexual harassment from a coworker.
The first step to take when experiencing sexual harassment from a coworker is to tell them to stop. Not only does telling your coworker to stop make your intentions known, but it is also important for a hostile work environment claim. A critical element of a hostile work environment claim is that the conduct is “unwelcome.” Thus, if the offending employee (or an employer) can claim that they did not know their behavior was unwelcome, it may be a valid defense to your claim.
Report the Conduct to Your Employer
For an employer to be liable for the sexual harassment of a coworker, the employer must know about it. Thus, after you tell the harassing employee to stop, the next step is to let your supervisor or the human resources department know by filing an official complaint.
Your employer will likely address how to file sexual harassment complaints in an employee manual; follow these steps as closely as possible. While reporting the behavior will not necessarily put a stop to the harassment, you must file a report to put your employer on notice. Otherwise, your employer can claim they would have done something about the harassment had they known about it.
Keep Detailed Records
From the moment you first notice another employee’s offensive conduct, document everything. Keep a journal, write yourself emails (not from your work email account), or just jot down notes—the more detailed, the better. You will want to include the dates on which the sexual harassment occurred, when you reported it to your supervisor, and what, if anything, your employer did to address it.
Be sure to save all communication about your complaint from your supervisor or the human resources department. If anyone else witnessed the sexual harassment, ask them to write down what happened. Remember, others may eventually read your notes, so be sure to make them as accurate and detailed as possible.
Discreetly Ask Around
If a coworker is sexually harassing you, there may be others who are also being harassed. If possible, find a safe time to ask other colleagues if they are experiencing the same thing, either with the employee, who is harassing, you or another employee. Often, employers who turn a blind eye to sexual harassment create an environment that fosters this type of conduct. Not only can this provide you with a supportive network of coworkers, but it may also reveal additional witnesses to other instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Talk to a Sexual Harassment Lawyer
When you are ready, the next step is to reach out to an attorney who handles workplace sexual harassment cases. An attorney can help you understand the process in more detail and give you an idea of what evidence you will need to prove your claim. Talking with an attorney will also provide you with all the necessary information you will need about how long you have to file a case and how to most effectively do so. Most sexual harassment lawyers offer a free consultation to answer your questions and familiarize you with the process.
Contact the Oregon and Washington Sexual Harassment Attorneys at D’Amore Law Group
If you are experiencing sexual harassment from a coworker, you have every right to insist your employer put a stop to it. If they do not, you can pursue a hostile work environment claim against your employer. At the sexual harassment law firm of D’Amore Law Group, we represent clients across Oregon and Washington, helping them hold employers accountable for allowing sexual harassment in the workplace.
For more than 25 years, Tom D’Amore and his dedicated team of attorneys have represented thousands of clients in all types of personal injury and sexual harassment claims. We pride ourselves in offering compassionate yet aggressive representation on behalf of employees who were inexcusably exposed to sexual harassment from coworkers. We look forward to meeting with you to see how we can help. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call or contact us through our online form.