In most large organizations, there is a Human Resources Department. This is usually the designated place to report sexual harassment. Reports should always be made in writing and you should keep a copy. When complaints are made in writing, there is proof of the complaint. If you only make a verbal complaint and maintain no record, the employer may later deny that you complained. If you decide to complain verbally, it is legal in New Jersey to record the conversation, so long as all other participants in the conversation are in New Jersey or in a state where recording without the other party’s consent is permitted. You can also record the harasser in order to have evidence, since the harasser will usually deny the accusations.
Written complaints by e-mail are best because they are provable. If you send a letter, make sure there is proof of delivery. This can be done by certified mail or by a courier service such as Federal Express. We do not recommend text messages. Even though they are in writing, they are less formal and sometimes difficult to document.
Complaints of sexual harassment should not be anonymous. If you want to be protected by the law, you must identify yourself and the harasser so that action can be taken to correct or eliminate the problem. It is understandable to be concerned that the employer or the harasser will be angry at you for complaining. But it is your legal right to work in a harassment-free environment, and the law protects you by punishing employers who retaliate against employees who complain.
In small organizations, reporting can be more complicated. Sometimes it is the boss or a family member of the boss who is the harasser. Nevertheless, you are legally protected from sexual harassment in the workplace, and in a small business with no human resources department, there is often little choice but to complain directly to the owner and demand that the harassment stop.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms. If the harasser is inappropriately touching you or sexually assaulting you, this should be reported to the police, as it is a criminal act. Unwanted advances and sexual comments and innuendos should be reported to HR or your superiors. Obscene photographs and e-mails (yes, sometimes harassers are that stupid) should be saved as evidence and turned over as part of your complaint. It may be embarrassing, but you may not have protection under the law if you do not properly complain.
If you are being harassed by the owner, manager or your direct supervisor, the employer is responsible for damages caused by the sexual harassment. If you are being sexually harassed by a co-worker or subordinate, the employer does not have any responsibility unless and until you complain. Once you complain, the employer has a legal responsibility to take prompt remedial action to prevent further acts of harassment. If the harassment continues, report it again.
The most important thing to remember if you are being sexually harassed is: Never Quit.
If the harassment continues despite your complaints, contact an attorney. In those types of situations, there are numerous actions we can take, including becoming directly involved with the employer and their attorneys. We can help stop the harassment or negotiate a fair severance package so that you can leave with dignity and some money in your pocket. We can also advise you as to whether you can take legal action to protect yourself and be compensated for what has happened to you.
Sexual harassment is unlawful and there is no reason to allow it and endure it. You are protected by law from both harassment and retaliation. If you are experiencing a problem, please call us for a free initial telephone consultation.