If you are facing harassment at work, you need to take steps to help you deal with the situation. By being proactive, you can safeguard your rights to work in a healthy and conducive environment, or if that does not happen, to receive proper redress for the harm you suffered because of the harassment.
The tips below will help you tremendously, now and later down the line if you decide to exercise your right to file a harassment or discrimination case.
In 2014, about $94 million was paid out as compensation to victims of workplace harassment filed through the EEOC, with awards in the cases ranging from $15,000 to $14.5 million.
Definition: What is Workplace Harassment?
A Workplace Harassment definition encompasses a wide range of unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person ought to know are unwelcome.
Such behaviors are unlawful when an employee has to endure offensive conduct that becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider hostile, intimidating or abusive.
Usually the employee who feels that he or she is being harassed would have made it clear that such behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate and asks that it be discontinued. Workplace harassment could be physical or psychological.
Stop Workplace Harassment with Forensic Notes
Workplace harassment is an all-too-common phenomenon in today’s workplaces which can lead to physical and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and panic attacks among those who are victims of it.
While it is frequently of a sexual nature, workplace harassment also takes other forms and may involve violence, bullying or other abusive, threatening or demeaning behavior.
Unfortunately, it is not often reported, meaning the victims suffer in silence, unable to access any remedy which may be available. Yet the fact remains that remedies are available for victims of harassment in the workplace, with recent data showing that such remedies can include significant financial compensation for the victim.
With adequate evidence, such as those which Forensic Notes empowers victims to assemble, a victim of workplace harassment can confidently fight against harassment and potentially receive compensation that could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Have you been Affected by Workplace Harassment?
Chances are, you have been or will be at some point in your career. According to the The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC) the agency that enforces employment laws, fully 30% of all charges brought before it relate to workplace harassment. That statistic ties in with the results of this survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute which showed that an estimated 37% of workers, or about 54 million people, have been bullied at the office, or repeatedly mistreated in a health-harming way.
Think about that for a moment: for every three workers out there in the workplace, at least one is suffering some form of harassment in the course of doing his or her job. It’s even more mind boggling when you consider that the 30% figure cited by the EEOC relates to instances of workplace harassment that are reported.
So in all probability, EEOC Statistics do not adequately reflect the pervasiveness of the issue.
As with most other forms of abuse, cases of harassment in the workplace are under-reported because people fear losing their jobs or compromising their careers if they speak out.
Others worry about being seen as “that guy” – the one who destroyed the collegial, let’s-all-be-friends atmosphere in the office. Some simply do not report harassment because they do not know that those negative behaviors they suffer at the hands of a co-worker amount to harassment. And sometimes, those who want to speak out worry that they will not be believed.
So, what is Workplace Harassment?
Harassment in the workplace is hardly ever clear cut. It takes many different forms and can be overt or disguised, and identifying it or labeling it as harassment can be tricky.
Take the case of 55 year old Anna. She’s sitting at her desk when an email comes in from Craig in Accounts. She opens it and finds a list of “Yo mama’s so old” jokes.
Is Craig’s email harassment? No. Crass and tasteless, yes, but the email in and of itself is not harassment.
However, this is not the only email from Craig. In fact, it’s only the latest in a long list of emails, text messages and disparaging comments from Craig about Anna’s age.
He never misses an opportunity to “compliment” her dressing (“nice skirt you’re wearing today Anna. I bet it was hot back in the 30s”) and he has recently taken to referring to all long-standing projects as “Anna-type” projects.
He refuses to allow Anna on any project team he is leading because “we don’t need outdated ideas,” and pressures other colleagues to do the same.
So is Craig’s latest email harassment? Absolutely! What takes it from a mildly offensive or inappropriate email to an act of harassment is the fact that it is part of a repeated and persistent behavior towards Anna that is intended to humiliate, torment, undermine and frustrate her.
His behavior embarrasses Anna and makes her anxious, frightened and feeling awkward around other co-workers.
… the fact that it is part of a repeated and persistent behavior towards Anna that is intended to humiliate, torment, undermine and frustrate her.
One of the key elements of workplace harassment is that the action or event that constitutes harassment has to be repeated. One act or event does not constitute harassment.
What this means for a person being harassed is that he or she needs to keep track of all instances of harassment in order to prove later down the line, that the offensive actions were, in fact, harassment rather than harmless teasing or attempt at humor. There’s more on this below.
The repeated actions that constitute harassment may take different forms, such as making comments that are rude, offensive or degrading; threatening or intimidating behavior or action; retaliation for reporting something; sending or displaying pictures or emails that are sexist, racist or denigrating of religious beliefs; unwanted touching, flirting or invitations with sexual overtones, disparaging remarks about dressing, etc.
How big an issue is Workplace Harassment?
The reality is that harassment occurs every day in workplaces across America. The EEOC describes this as “an unacceptable reality,” but it is a reality nonetheless.
Consider this: In 2014 alone, over 26, 000 cases of workplace harassment were filed with the EEOC. That’s an average of 72 cases a day. But again, we’re only talking about reported cases.
According to this ABC News/Washington Post poll on sexual harassment for instance, nearly 65% of all people who had experienced sexual harassment at work did not report it.
With various studies suggesting that less than half of all cases of harassment are reported, it is obvious that workplace harassment is a big problem indeed.
Also big is the amount of financial compensation that victims can receive. In 2014, about $94 million was paid out as compensation to victims of workplace harassment filed through the EEOC, with awards in the cases ranging from $15,000 to $14.5 million.
Records show that average EEOC settlement amounts can be quite substantial.
While the payouts from cases settled out of court are difficult to obtain due to confidentiality agreements, one studyfound that when employees choose to litigate and they win, the payout averages $217,000.
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How can Workplace Harassment be stopped?
What can you do if you’ve been Harassed at work?
The unfortunate truth is that sometimes harassment cannot be stopped at all, as the perpetrator persists with their behavior and the company is either unable or unwilling to take proper action due to the position of the perpetrator in the company.
But you don’t have to resign yourself to the idea that your only choices are either to quit or to put up with the harassment. There are things you can do about it.
If you are being harassed at work, here are some important steps to take:
1. Talk to the Harasser
Express your discomfort with the behavior or comments and ask them to stop it.
2. Bring the Harassment to the Attention of your Employer
If your employer has a complaint procedure (which it should) use it to report the harassment to the appropriate parties within your company.
In fact, if you do not use your employer’s complaint process before going to court, you may not recover damages if you win.
3. Seek a Resolution
Submit to arbitration or other process that your company offers to resolve the problem.
Unfortunately this is often the only way to stop harassment within hostile work environments where management does not take the issue seriously.
Always be prepared by documenting all interactions with the company from the very beginning.
What if it doesn’t stop?
Do I have any Legal Recourse?
If your complaint is not handled to your satisfaction, or the harassment continues, you could bring a lawsuit against the co-worker or even the company for condoning the harassment.
Prior to bringing a lawsuit, you need to file an administrative charge with the EEOC or a similar state agency. This is a legal requirement.
If you file a lawsuit without first having filed an administrative charge, your lawsuit will be thrown out.
After considering your case, the EEOC or other agency can dismiss your charge, investigate, request that you and your employer try to settle or mediate the dispute, or take other action.
After processing your claim the agency may issue you a right to sue letter, which will then enable you to file a lawsuit.
Although bringing an EEOC suit or complaint is something you could easily do yourself, you may want to seek the assistance of a employment lawyer to guide you through how to write an EEOC complaint.
Can I Sue for Workplace Harassment?
Employees can sue for Workplace Harassment, hostile work environment or discrimination.
If an employer is made aware of the Workplace Harassment and doesn’t take the initiative to fix the problem, then the employer can be held liable. However, if the employer is not engaging in the alleged activity or isn’t made aware of the situation, the employer will most likely not be held responsible for this form of harassment.
This is especially true if the employer has a program or process in place that allows employees to submit grievances and the employee doesn’t take advantage of the program or process.
If the employer takes steps to correct the harassment but it continues, you could bring a lawsuit against the co-worker.
To be successful in their claim, employees should keep detailed records of any instances of workplace harassment to serve as proof.
Whichever route you take, the most important thing is to record, record, record! Keep a written record of all incidents of harassment including what exactly happened, date, time, and the names of people that might have witnessed the incidents.
This is the single most beneficial thing you can do for yourself when it comes time to proving your case. But it is not enough simply to jot down a few notes or approach it as something casual where you document some of the more serious instances, but not all.
What you need is formal record-keeping that will stand up to scrutiny whether before your company-led arbitration, before the EEOC or other agency or in a court of law.
Keep a written record of all incidents of harassment including what exactly happened, date, time, and the names of people that might have witnessed the incidents.
Why is Forensic Notes the best way to record Workplace Harassment information?
The burden of proof in harassment cases is a heavy one. To have any chance of success, accurate record keeping is absolutely vital.
The following reasons are why you need to have a detailed and accurate record of dates, situations and descriptions of the incidents:
Document all Facts of your Claim
Harassment claims are very fact-specific, and it is the facts that will make or break your case. In the absence of solid documentary evidence, such cases often come down to “he said, she said,” especially if there were no witnesses to the incidents or witnesses who are willing to testify, so the victim stands the risk of having their case dismissed for lack of evidence.
Witnesses Not Always Reliable
Even where there are witnesses to the harassment, the victim may find that by the time their case gets to court, those witnesses have left the company.
Data is Volatile
Many companies have automatic email deletion. After a few months, a victim may find that he or she is unable to recover incriminating emails that were sent or deleted, and there’s simply no record of them.
Contemporaneous Notes are Highly Valued
Courts put far more weight on contemporaneous documents concerning harassment such as diary entries, emails, faxes, letters, notes etc.
Any notes drafted long after the relevant event has occurred or after a lawsuit has been filed is considered memory based and far less reliable than notes that were taken at the time of the incident.
Even where notes exist, but such notes exist in an electronic format, their authenticity is open to attack in court if there is no way of proving beyond reasonable doubt when they were created and that they have not been altered.
All these factors and more, make Forensic Notes an indispensable tool for establishing a strong and credible case when a person has been a victim of harassment.
Forensic Notes enables you to make and store contemporaneous notes of incidents of harassment, which are timestamped by a Trusted Timestamping Authority (TSA) similar to those used by banks to authenticate transactions. Once created, the notes cannot be changed, although they can be added to by creating additional timestamped notes.
Forensic Notes is Customized for Workplace Harassment Incidents
Forensic Notes has been designed to capture the information your require to create detailed and accurate notes that are court-ready regarding your Workplace Harassment incidents. This includes:
1. Hostile Work Environments
2. Gender Discrimination
4. Sexual Harassment
5. Wrongful Termination
Once you sign up for a ‘Workplace Harassment’ account, you will be guided through the note entry process to quickly and easily create notes that can be used for internal HR discussions, EEOC or court proceedings.
With Forensic Notes, you can store emails, text messages, records of your complaint to Human Resources or other documentation.
Forensic Notes replicate bound and numbered paper notebooks used in business, legal and law enforcement situations. Because it is an impartial, third party platform, Forensic Notes guarantees the authenticity and demonstrates the contemporaneousness of any written material that is likely to be submitted as evidence in court, arbitration or other forums.
How does Forensic Notes work?
With Forensic Notes, users get an industry leading security system that protects the integrity of all information stored in it. It is easy and straightforward to use. Simply sign up for an account.
Your account is protected using multiple layers of encryption and multi-factor authentication. (See Security & Data Encryption page for details)
Once signed up, you can create Forensic Notebooks which include ALL Forensic Notes that have been entered into that notebook, and you can categorize them in any way you want.
For example you may have a Notebook called “Workplace Issues” to store notes, emails, witness statements, etc regarding your workplace harassment incidents.
Within this Notebook, it would also be good to include your diary notes about how you feel as a result of those incidents. This allows you to keep everything together in one notebook which can then be presented as a Forensic Notebook in court if required.
This would show a clear timeline of your thoughts and feelings as a result of the incidents that occurred. Forensic Notes allows you to create multiple notebooks which you can use for other purposes too.
Once saved, your notes and any attachments become read-only and a Digitally Signed PDF of your Notes and attachments is created.
This protects the integrity of the documents as they cannot be tampered with. A Timestamp of the Digitally Signed PDF is created using an Trusted Timestamping Authority (TSA) and saved with the original note and attachments.
The timestamped document is now known as a Forensic Note.
Forensic Notes and Forensic Notebooks can be printed at any time, including for court or arbitration purposes.
You may then present them as evidence in your case, with irrefutable proof that the notes (and attachments) were entered on the date recorded within the Digital Timestamp.
If I am being harassed at work, what kind of compensation do I deserve?
It depends. If you are successful in your harassment claim, the amount you can get in financial compensation depends on what sort of harm you’ve suffered because of the harassment.
Harm could be financial, such as if you’re denied a promotion that would have earned you more money, or you’re forced to leave your job because you could not take the harassment anymore.
For that kind of harm, you may get damages which include back pay and front pay, to compensate you for wages that you lost.
You may also suffer emotional harm, like the case of Anna above who is left feeling anxious, frustrated and fearful.
For this kind of harm, you may get damages for pain and suffering. In addition, you could get punitive damages which are intended to punish your employer for condoning or failing to put a stop to the harassment.
Ultimately, what you can get in dollar sum depends on the facts of your case, but as the figures previously mentioned show, compensation can potentially be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more.
Average EEOC settlement amounts are also quite substantial.
For you to get any compensation however, you first need to report the harassment. And if you’ve read up to this point, you probably realize by now that reporting harassment means much more than simply going to your supervisor and saying “A is harassing me.”
You need proof. Solid, credible proof that is contemporaneous to the instances of harassment.
Forensic Notes’ document-authentication and storage system helps you cross that hurdle by giving your documents the credibility and authenticity they need, so that you can take the first step towards getting the compensation you deserve.
Give yourself a fighting chance – start recording today to ensure you have the right kind of evidence to prove your case.
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Proving Workplace Harassment
Being the victim of harassment at work can be pretty traumatic, but you don’t have to suffer in silence. You can take a stand against the harassment by reporting it.
Frequently though, harassment does not end with simply reporting it. The problem may drag on for a while and you may even end up in court.
Whether or not you do end up in court, here are three key elements you need to be able to show in order to have a case:
3 Key Elements to Having a Legal Case
1. You Did Not Initiate the Harassment
Part of what you need to prove is that you had nothing to do with the harassment. That is, you did not initiate or welcome it. From a legal perspective, an employee complaining of harassment must prove that the behavior was unwelcome and that they did not participate in it willingly.
Oftentimes, the harasser’s defense is that it was a joke and the complainant went along with it. If you have text messages, documents, emails, or communication in other format that can back up your case, keep them.
2. The Harassment Offended You
The behavior in question should be something you find offensive. What is offensive is easy to determine in some cases, but difficult in others.
A verbal abuse for instance, can be reasonably presumed to be offensive, but what if it was a “joke”?
Nobody can decide for you what you must find funny, so a joke could easily be offensive. However, that is not to say you should take offence at everything. Which is why you should try to clarify things with the offender by letting them know you do not welcome the behavior or language.
That way, if it was an errant joke, they have a chance to stop it. If it continues after having made your feelings known, then you can put that down to deliberate attempts to offend you.
3. The Harassment Affected you Negatively
Thirdly, you have to prove that the harassment affected you, either physically or mentally and in terms of your work performance.
If your health, mental state and work performance took a turn for the worse, you can get your medical and mental health records as well as previous performance reviews to show the impact of the harassment on you.
3 Key Steps to Proving Workplace Harassment
Proving workplace harassment can be difficult because, more often than not, it is your word against the harasser’s. But that does not mean that you should or cannot do something about it.
Here are three steps you can take if you’re being harassed at work:
1. Record and Document
Record all instances of harassment, even when they are implied as “jokes”. Harassment comes in various forms of course, so make sure you note down the different ways your harasser is targeting you, whether it be threats or promises of promotion in exchange for sexual favors.
Note down the date, place and time.
Don’t worry if there are no witnesses. Harassers usually wait for opportunities to catch you alone, so it’s possible there won’t be any witnesses.
2. Do NOT Delete Text Messages, Emails or Chats
You may receive text messages, emails, Facebook posts and even hand written notes or cards.
Don’t just keep them, take photos and make digital copies and store them online in case you lose your phone or it crashes.
When all hell breaks loose, you need them to prove that the harassment has been going on for some time.
3. Don’t store Evidence on your Office Computer or in your Desk
Duh! The first thing you lose access to if you get fired is the office computer, and you only have a few minutes to clear out your desk. And don’t even kid yourself that you can’t get fired.
Evidence from the EEOC suggests that retaliation is one of the leading causes of complaints they receive.
What’s retaliation? Well, let’s just say your complaints about harassment could make someone at your office very mad and they either decide to make your life miserable or just outright send you packing. That’s retaliation.
Even if you don’t get fired, what’s to prevent someone from rifling through your desk and taking your notes, or even deleting your stuff from the company server?
So to protect yourself and prove your harassment in court, make sure your notes and documents are stored in a safe, neutral place and in a manner that makes them admissible in court. Here’s a pretty nifty tool that helps you do just that.
Dealing with any form of harassment can be traumatic, but you can stay one step ahead by following these three simple steps.