If your employer provides an internal mechanism for reporting sexual harassment, you must take reasonable steps to report the harassment to your employer. Follow the following steps:
Employers generally set forth procedures for internally reporting incidents of sexual harassment in the employee handbook and/or collective bargaining agreement. These procedures generally establish an "open door policy" whereby employees can report the harassment to a supervisor, a Human Resources Manager, or a neutral person such as an Ombudsman. Review these procedures carefully.
Often, employees feel embarrassed reporting sexual harassment and/or fear retaliation for reporting it. These are legitimate concerns, especially where the employer's policy requires reports to be made to the person committing the sexual harassment. Reports should always be made to a neutral person (i.e. somebody not involved in the harassment). The person should be in management, preferably a Human Resource Manager. Most importantly, the person needs to be somebody you can trust.
If possible, meet face-to-face with the person to whom you choose to report the harassment. A face-to-face meeting will allow you to tell your story and allow the employer to ask follow up questions. Often times, by meeting face-to-face with a victim of sexual harassment, the employer can see how genuinely upset and distraught you are over what happened. This conveyance of emotions can be a powerful way to motivate the employer to investigate your complaint and take appropriate remedial action.
After meeting face-to-face, or if a face-to-face meeting is not possible, always always always put your complaint in writing. Keep a copy for your records and request that another copy be placed in your personnel file. Send your complaint via e-mail to your employer, as documents can be lost, stolen, or destroyed, but e-mails can almost always be recovered, even if deleted.
Do not make general allegations such as Mr. Manager harassed me. Instead, be specific. Tell the employer exactly what happened with as much detail as possible so the employer can adequately investigate and remedy the situation. If possible, include dates, witnesses and documents that can support your story. You must be honest. Do not lie under any circumstances, as you could later be sued for defamation if you lie. Also, make sure you tell your employer what you want them to do about the harassment (e.g. I want you to reassign me to a different manager). Your employer does not have to remedy the situation the way you desire, but your input is always helpful.
After you complain, your employer has a legal obligation to investigate. Your employer should keep you involved in the investigation. However, sometimes employers will not involve you. Thus, it is important you continue to go to your employer with additional information and put it all in writing, preferably sending it via e-mail. If your employer excludes you from the investigation process, make sure you also document that in writing and tell your employer that you want to participate and that you are upset that they are not allowing you to participate.
Once you have followed all the previous steps, you will have fulfilled your obligation to report the harassment to your employer. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against you for internally reporting sexual harassment. Employers also have an obligation to remedy harassment in the workplace. If your employer fails to take any action and/or retaliates against you in any way, immediately contact us for advice on how to proceed.
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