Gilpin Law has been handling workplace sexual harassment for 30 plus years. It can be a male colleague grabbing her leg or rubbing her back. Co-workers discussing who to sleep with. Or worse, much worse. The Fox Network is in the news for workplace sexual harassment. But, it can, and does, happen in big and small companies in Oklahoma.
Often the victim worries about ruining his or her career for reporting it versus the possibility of the harassment continuing on. (Yes, it can happen to men too.) But, often employers, judges and juries see a failure to report harassment internally within the company as evidence that it didn’t happen or that plaintiffs had other motives. In the law, a company is given a defense if the victim didn’t report it internally first.
The victim should always report the harassment internally first and give an employer the opportunity to do what’s right and correct the situation. However, be prepared to be ignored or retaliated against. It’s estimated that a quarter to a third of people who have experienced work place sexual harassment report it to a supervisor or union representative, and 2 to 13% file a formal complaint.
Some victims of sexual harassment confront the perpetrator. But a most common response is to avoid the person, play down what happened or ignore the behavior. About 25% of women report having experienced sexual harassment. But when asked about specific behaviors, touching or pressure for sexual favors, the number about doubles. In public-sector employees, two thirds who had complained described some form of retaliation.
Most sizable companies have policies banning sexual harassment and require some sort of training in what it is and how to report it. But much of the training has been shown to be ineffective, and at worst can backfire. The best way to avoid sexual harassment, and ensure that it’s reported when it happens, is to bake it into company culture, from the top leaders on down.
The federal anti discrimination laws apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. In the law, after an internal company complaint, the next step is a Title VII administrative complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This step is required and in Oklahoma a victim only has 300 days after the last offending act to get it on file. The Commission is required to do an investigation. If the issues are not resolved at the Commission, the victim gets a “right to sue” letter. At that point, upon receipt of a “right to sue” letter, the victim has only 90 says to get a lawsuit on file. Standing up for your rights is not easy, but the law is on your side.