Workplace harassment is a source of tremendous stress for many employees in California. Some of them confront their harassers in one way or the other, while others take a passive approach, feeling helpless or not believing that anyone can help them, including their human resources management.
Unless the harassment is very severe (such as unwanted touching, violence or threats of violence, repeated racial or sexist slurs, etc), most attorneys will advise you that suing the employer or the harasser is not a great option if you are still employed with the company where you are subjected to harassment. This is because any recovery of damages in employment related cases is to a great degree proportionate to the loss of wages. If you are still employed and have not been terminated, you are not losing any wages, which makes your case “smaller.”
This doesn’t mean however that you should remain helpless and do nothing to protect yourself and your position at workplace. Here are a few simple, practical and important steps you can and you should take if you are subjected to harassment, but no action such as suspension and termination has been taken against you:
1. Make sure you complain in writing to your supervisor or your supervisor’s manager if your supervisor is the harasser about your experience. Do everything you can to make sure that the employer cannot deny later that they knew you were harassed. Fax your complaint and keep a record of transmission confirmation. Deliver your letter in person if possible and also call to make sure that your complaint has been received by the people authorized to review harassment complaints and investigate the allgations.
2. If not action is taken to investigate your complaints within a few weeks to a month and the harassment continues, submit another complaint and demand that an investigation into your allegation be conducted as soon as possible an action to be taken against the harasser. This might also be a good time to contact and experience employment attorney who can advise you on the next steps considering all the specific circumstances of your situation.
3. If possible, don’t let your performance slip and give your employer “legitimate” reason to terminate you and cover retaliatory discharge with such common reasons for firing as “insubordination” or poor performance.
4. If you communicate with HR and your management by e-mail, make sure you back or copy all your e-mails, so that you have access to your communication later. It’s not uncommon for employees to be escorted out of the office upon termination without any notice and not have any opportunity to access their personal information on their office computer ever again later. Even though the employers are obligated to preserve electronically stored information about notice of potential litigation, deleting your e-mails and documents stored on the computer is too easy.
5. If there are witnesses (co-workers) to the way you are harassed, ask them to write a brief statement and sign it under the penalty of perjury. Some people will be afraid to testify against their employer for obvious reasons of being concerned about retaliation, while others won’t mind helping you, especially if they are unhappy about the way you are treated (or they are treated. This can be used later as a compelling peace of evidence to prove that you indeed were harassed.
You might not be able to prevent your demotion, transfer, suspension or wrongful termination, but you can make sure you line up your “weapons” effectively, so if and when you need to bring a claim against your employer, they will have many reasons to settle your case sooner, or give you your job back and remove the harasser, or use the same weapons in court to your great benefit.