Coworker & Employee Harassment Attorney
Employee-Employee Harassment: What to Look For
Sexual harassment is not just a phrase tossed around by the media. It is a life-changing, demoralizing, cruel, and haunting experience for its victims. And, sadly, it remains a common occurrence in American and California workplaces. One common form of sexual harassment involves harassment between co-workers.
Definition of Sexual Harassment
According to the California Office of the Attorney General,
“[S]exual harassment refers to both unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.”
Sexual desire need not motivate this conduct. Rather, it “may be based upon an employee’s actual or perceived sex or gender-identity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and/or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
In other words, in California, sexual harassment includes many types of offensive behavior, including “gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser, and actions that subject co-workers to a hostile work environment.”
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (FDEH) is the state agency tasked with enforcing California’s workplace anti-discrimination law, known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). According to FDEH, in 2017, the department received 683 complaints alleging unlawful workplace sexual harassment, and another 1,018 complaints alleging unlawful workplace sex/gender discrimination, which together accounted for about 18 percent of all employment complaints FDEH handled that year. Both figures reflected a significant rise in the number of such complaints from 2016, though it is unclear whether that reflects an increase in unlawful conduct or merely a more assertive reporting of that behavior.
Jennifer Koza writes that a survey of 500 women among her readers found that 43 percent had experienced harassment at work. When asked to define the average harasser, the answers included:
- Seventy percent said their harassers were younger than 40.
- Fifty-seven percent described their harassment as coming from a colleague.
- Sixty percent of female Silicon Valley employees said they had encountered workplace sexual harassment.
Results of Experiencing Harassment in the Workplace
After a victim has undergone the trauma of sexual harassment, several consequences can occur. Dr. Colleen Cullen, a licensed clinical psychologist, explains that victims can suffer from:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Trauma that manifests in physical or mental stress
- Shame or guilt that lowers self-esteem and self-worth as a professional
- Long-term mental health effects
Some sexual harassment victims never speak up when the perpetrators are coworkers. Although that is their right, employees who report these acts not only help themselves, but others who might experience similar harassment.
Those who are harassed can break the cycle of abuse in the workplace by:
- Contacting an experienced law firm – Don’t try to fight this on your own. Attorneys who have won sexual abuse cases in the past can protect your rights and make sure you receive what is rightfully yours.
- Keeping a record of the sexual harassment incidents – Carefully date, write down locations, add names of any witnesses, and document a description of every offense, along with the number of times your abuser has harassed you. This record will prove useful for H.R. department investigations or if you decide to take legal action, especially if you are fired.
- Forwarding any harassing emails to your private email account so that you can access them if you are fired or put on suspension.
- Reporting the actions to a supervisor or the H.R. department – If you don’t report the harassment, according to Greatist, you have no legal leg to stand on. Reporting gives you that legal foundation. Call a lawyer for advice about how to report the harassment, and if the company takes no effective action, let your attorney know.
What Needs to Change in the Workplace
College campuses and workplaces are implementing bystander training. NoMore.com is attempting to address the silence and inaction concerning sexual harassment. No More partnered with the Avon Foundation for Women to create Breakthrough Bystander Behavior Training Programs. The organization will provide employers with the necessary tools to help employees recognize signs of abuse and support victims in up-to-date ways.
Jocelyn Frye of the Center for American Progress suggests teaching leadership who are at the top of the organization’s hierarchy to instill in employees a zero-tolerance stance for harassment of any kind:
It is essential for all participants in the workplace, whether employers, employees, or enforcement officials, to affirm equality as a guiding principle that governs how each workplace operates.
Get rid of the highly mocked, ineffective, once-a-year harassment seminars that do not work. Try using bystander training and programs tailored to your specific workplace.
What to Do Now
It takes an incredible amount of courage to report sexual harassment in the workplace. Even renowned celebrities with the ability to seek any recourse they prefer have often chosen not to report it. With these facts, definitions, and statistics, however, and an experienced sexual harassment lawyer in their corners, victims can decide how they want to proceed.
But you do not have to face your abusers alone. You will find that numerous individuals, professionals, and organizations know how to help you. They will feel privileged to assist you in preventing any other people from experiencing these horrific acts in your workplace. Victims who have survived these disturbing ordeals are strong and know that by blowing the whistle on sexual harassment, they will not only help themselves but will also help myriad others who have suffered in the same way.
Take that step today if you haven’t yet, and join with the thousands of others who want to see workplace harassment annihilated. If you were harmed by employee-employee sexual harassment, contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney to learn about your legal rights.