Should you ever be harassed at work, learn how to safeguard yourself, your situation, and your job from a legal standpoint. Your job is likely one of the most valuable things you have. Protect it. Recent news has focused on the problem of sexual harassment, but harassment can spring from many roots –including your race, national origin, religion, age, and disability. If you believe that you have been subject to workplace harassment, you should know two things. First, you have the right to equal opportunity and fair treatment. Texas and federal laws protect employee rights, so that employees can build for the future based on their employment accomplishments. Second, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself, and any claim that may arise from being harassed at work, even before you reach out to an employment law attorney.
Coping Mechanisms When Harassed at Work
If you have experienced workplace harassment, you will recognize the coping mechanisms:
- Stage one is shock and disbelief. Did so-and-so really pat your behind? Was that a racial or ethnic slur you heard? Do you believe you were wrongfully terminated because of age? Was this a mistake or did you do something wrong?
- Stage two is anger.
- Stage three involves some strategic decisions about what to do next. Should you ignore it, look for another job, or pursue legal remedies?
For employees working through stage three, any of these decisions may be right. Many women who brought #MeToo claims, for example, have had to balance the risks of complaining about conduct versus the consequences of ignoring sexual harassment. In this article are several important lessons for employees who have experienced workplace harassment.
Our Employment Lawyers Can Help You Fight Workplace Harassment
If you believe that you have been harassed at work in violation of the law, the Texas employment attorneys at Kilgore & Kilgore will help you determine the legal remedies available to you and help you fight for your employee rights. Click the following link to learn more about workplace harassment Employment Discrimination. We offer a free review of the facts of your case. Use this link to reach us Contact Kilgore & Kilgore.
Was It Illegal Workplace Harassment?
Don’t spend too long on this step. Toss your legal questions to an employment lawyer. The time limits on filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and many harassment claims take this form, are fairly short – generally 180 days from the incident (or up to 300 days for federal claims). A long delay may complicate or even bar a case.
Both the Texas Labor Code and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protect employees from discrimination and harassment. Other laws may apply depending on the nature of the harassment. Discrimination laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees (20, in the case of age discrimination) and to all state and local governmental entities regardless of the number of employees.
Workplace harassment is not limited to sexual abuse. It may involve any unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin discrimination, disability, age discrimination (over 40), pregnancy discrimination, or even gender identity. It is illegal when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a prerequisite to continued employment, or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider it intimidating, characterizing it as abusive behavior, or creating a hostile workplace.
The interpretation of these terms varies from state to state, however, especially with respect to gender and gender identity. The Fifth Circuit has determined, for example, that Texas law does not explicitly protect employees from harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. On the other hand, Texas law does appear to include gender stereotyping within the definition of harassment. Berating a group of male employees as “ladies” may constitute unwelcome verbal behavior.
Telltale Signs of Workplace Harassment
One unpleasant incident does not necessarily equal harassment, but repeated unwanted conduct may. To evaluate the abusive behavior, you should ask yourself the following questions. These are all serious signs of workplace harassment, and you should not ignore or endure them.
- Has the abusive behavior escalated?
- Do you believe that keeping your job or getting a promotion depends on submitting to unwanted conduct?
- Have you suffered some harm, such as a demotion, a change in duties, particularly to ones that are not suitable for your skills and experience, a move to an unsuitable work space or the denial of a training opportunity because you have complained about the abusive behavior?
- Have your complaints been mocked or ignored?
But Can You Prove Workplace Harassment?
This is often a problem especially because much of this conduct takes place in private. Take these steps to support your position:
Complain about it – promptly, in writing, and in detail to the appropriate human resources professional. You must make your case that the conduct was unwelcome, or if you were a witness or otherwise aware of it, that it created a hostile workplace or could be considered abusive behavior in the workplace. Also, complain about retaliation, if it happened.
Preserve records on your home computer or personal tablet. First, document the offensive interactions that you feel could be described as employee harassment, any interviews with others in the workplace, and complaints to management. Make note of dates, locations, witness names, and take photos, if appropriate. Keep printouts of offensive emails received. Make sure that you preserve this material at home. Documentation kept at work or on company equipment may disappear.
Talk to people who may have witnessed the abuse and ask them to write down their recollections. Not surprisingly, they may have experienced similar abuse. It may be better to have these conversations away from the workplace. Obtain printed copies of all comments received.
Exhaust internal remedies. Diligently pursue whatever grievance procedure exists in your workplace, even if you believe that it is not likely to be fruitful. Document all pertinent meetings, emails, or other correspondence.
Where there is no HR department, seek outside help. Often with a small company, or when the harasser is the boss, it may necessary to skip some of the preliminary steps and seek outside help immediately. The Texas Workforce Commission or the EEOC may be helpful. If you have not already done so, this may be the time to consider consulting an employment law attorney.
What Remedy Do You Want?
When all is said and done, decide the outcome you want. Do you want to be reinstated in your job, reassigned or promoted, if you believe a promotion was unfairly denied? Are money damages important to you? What about the cost of any medical treatment that has been necessary to help you deal with workplace stress? Do you want to see a change in policies and procedures? Should the harasser be removed? Do you just want to leave the job and start fresh with a positive recommendation?
There are generally two steps for an outside action. The first is a complaint to the TWC or the EEOC, and the second is a lawsuit. Some disputes are resolved via the TWC or EEOC process. This step generally involves attempts at mediation, or an investigation followed by, in some instances, a conciliation agreement that may yield monetary and other relief. If this is unsuccessful, an employee may seek to file a civil suit against the employer.
Your ability to bring a lawsuit is contingent on several things. To take legal action in either state or federal court, you must have a “right to sue” letter from the TWC or EEOC that will show that the agency has investigated the situation. Your ability to sue may also be affected by any confidentiality agreement you have signed with your employer, or whether you have an arbitration agreement. For these and other reasons, many employees resort to the court system only as a final step. This is where an employment law attorney can help you learn your options and probability of winning a lawsuit.
Read More about Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Lawsuits
If you have been the subject of workplace harassment, do not feel alone. You are one of many, and there are legal remedies for this form of abusive behavior. Going public about employee rights may also help protect others. Click here to read more about how our employment lawyers help resolve workplace claims Kilgore & Kilgore Dallas Employment Lawyers. Contact us to request a free evaluation of the facts of your case by clicking here and sending us a contact request Contact Kilgore & Kilgore.