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Sexual harassment at work - what you need to know

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What is workplace sexual harassment?  Sexual harassment in the workplace is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of unwanted behaviors. This includes nonphysical harassment, including suggestive remarks and gestures, or requests for sexual favors. Physical harassment includes touches, hugs, kisses and coerced sex acts. It can be perpetrated by anyone — a manager, a colleague, a client. The perpetrator or the recipient may be male or female. It does not need to occur inside the office. Your employer could still be responsible for failing to prevent the sexual harassment, or for failing to handle it appropriately.

If you have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment and you want to take action, you have a number of choices. But first: Whatever you plan to do, keep notes and evidence. After an incident of sexual harassment it important to write down what happened, what was said or touched, who did it, whether anyone was around to witness what happened, where you were, what the time was. Take screenshots of texts, print emails, do what you need to do. Keep notes in a bound notebook do not store information on any of your devices. If there is any physical evidence — for example, a dress with fluids on it or pornographic images — save it. When investigating or reporting on a complaint of sexual harassment, accusers will often be asked if they had confided in a friend, family member or colleague at the time of the event or events. Even if you never plan on taking action, confiding in someone at the time can be helpful if you change your mind about taking action later.

Now, for your options:

  1. Contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer immediately. Typically, you only have 180 days from the last act of sexual harassment to file a complaint with the appropriate federal or state agency. Don't delay on this. Sexual harassment lawyers typically work on a contingent fee basis so that you are not paying by the hour.
  2. File a criminal complaint. But do this in consultation with your sexual harassment attorney. Generally, in cases where the harassment included physical touching, coerced physical confinement or coerced sex acts, it could be considered a crime.
  3. Notify your employer verbally and then in writing. Consult your employee handbook for your employer's sexual harassment policy and follow the steps it sets forth. If the harasser was your boss, report to someone up the chain or to Human Resources. Reporting to your employer is critical because if you think you may want to file a lawsuit against the employer in the future, you have to report the harassment to your employer first. Otherwise, the employer has a defense. Make sure all of your attempts at reporting the sexual harassment are documented. Write down everything and put everything in writing.
  4. You can go to a federal, state or local agency. At the federal level, you can go through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In Pennsylvania, the state agency is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Filing a Charge or Complaint with these agencies is required before you can file a lawsuit in court. Your sexual harassment lawyer will help you with this process.