Harassment or discrimination in the workplace can be a major source of anxiety, pain, and confusion. Your employer should provide a safe environment where you are treated with respect and you can be productive. If you are experiencing harassment or discrimination at work, there are several things you can do to protect yourself.
Try communicating first
The first thing to do when experiencing discrimination or harassment at the workplace is to talk with the person who is bothering you, if possible. If you feel there may be any threat to your safety or well-being, however, then other courses of action should be taken.
Talking with the offender may be uncomfortable, but it is important to take the most practical approach first to get the behavior to stop. Sometimes a simple conversation will be enough to get the person to stop. If they do not, however, and you decide to file a lawsuit, it will be important for you to be able to demonstrate that significant effort was made to address the behavior.
In both harassment and discrimination cases, demonstrating that certain behaviors or communications were unwelcome is important, which can be made evident by asking the person to stop. Sometimes in harassment cases, the offender will say the victim welcomed the behavior. If the victim clearly communicated discomfort, the offender may have a difficult time making this argument. Even if the offender does not stop after being asked, it helps makes your case clear.
Filing an official complaint
If communicating with the offender does not alleviate the situation or you decided that it was unsafe to confront the person, the next step is to file an official complaint. Your company’s human resources staff or your supervisor may be consulted to find out how to file a discrimination or harassment complaint. By making your situation known to the company, you are giving your employer the opportunity to resolve the problem before matters get more complicated while also helping to preserve your legal rights.
If you are being harassed by a co-worker and do not file a complaint, the company may say it did not know about the harassment. Telling the company about the situation through official means, on the other hand, makes the company both aware of the situation and responsible for remedying it. Should you file a lawsuit later on, the company may be held liable if they knew about the harassment or discrimination and did not properly address the situation. Additionally, if a manager at the company is responsible for your discomfort and the company takes disciplinary actions toward you rather than the harasser, the company may be liable.
Before a discrimination or harassment lawsuit can be filed, under federal law, an administrative charge must be filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or an appropriate state agency. It is possible that a lawsuit may not be accepted by the courts if administrative remedies have not been pursued first.
If you file a charge, the EEOC or corresponding state agency will notify your employer. The complaint may be dismissed, or it may be deemed necessary for the employer to address the situation. In other situations, the victim may receive “right to sue letter” allowing him or her to file a lawsuit.
There are strict deadlines for filing administrative charges and lawsuits after receiving a right to sue letter, so it is a good idea to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
New York State human rights law
New York was the first state in the country to enact a human rights law. The law prohibits discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, and educational institutions based on age, race, sex, and other specified classes. The New York State Division of Human Rights was created to enforce citizens’ rights in these areas. If you live in New York, learning more about your state-specific rights can help your case. Consulting with an attorney will provide clarification.
Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, located in Western New York, has extensive experience in discrimination and harassment cases. The firm’s attorneys have earned numerous recognitions, such as having an attorney named Best Lawyers in America “Lawyer of the Year” in Labor & Employment Law. We have a high level of understanding and legal know-how in harassment and discrimination cases. Speak with our attorneys and find out what your options are.
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.