It’s understandable why some people might be afraid to report sexual harassment at the workplace. Some don’t want to be viewed as disloyal to their company, and even fear that reporting a sexual harassment complaint may negatively affect others within the company. Others simply fear there may be legal or financial repercussions, and they might lose their jobs.
First of all, your sense of loyalty should not interfere with your obligation to do the right thing. Sexual harassment is illegal. It needs to be reported so that it can be addressed and prevented from occurring again to you or someone else.
Secondly, employers are not legally allowed to retaliate against any employee who files a sexual harassment claim.
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against a harassment claim
Federal and state law prohibits employers and/or co-workers from retaliating against anyone who reports or files a sexual harassment claim. But just because retaliation is illegal doesn’t mean it never happens. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, dedicates a significant portion of its time and resources to combatting illegal retaliation from employers.
Even if a sexual harassment claim filed by an employee is “unsubstantiated” by the employer, the employer is still prohibited from taking any retaliatory action against the employee who brought the claim forward. Retaliation may take the form of a demotion, a dismissal, a title or position change, or a denial of promotion. Typically, any form of retaliation will be subtly veiled with a false pretense. For example, a company might terminate an employment on seemingly legitimate grounds, citing a violation of the company policies (such as unexcused tardiness). Even if these claims are valid, the apparent infraction might be accepted for other employees at the workplace, and therefore, a case for unlawful retaliation may be made.
These companies can be prosecuted for illegal retaliation, and this protection under the law also extends to anyone who simply serves as a witness to a discrimination or harassment case. Without these anti-retaliation protections, the system simply wouldn’t work.
Barriers and costs to filing a harassment claim
Many people hesitate to file a sexual harassment claim because they are afraid of retaliation or other perceived risks. If a company retaliates against your sexual harassment claim, you can take legal action to defend yourself. Below, we’ve addressed a few common barriers you may perceive to filing a claim:
- I can’t afford a lawyer. Internal grievances do not require the assistance of an attorney, but having an attorney to counsel you through the company’s internal complaint procedure is strongly advised. Most lawyers representing employees are willing to work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won’t have to pay for your lawyer unless you receive a monetary recovery.
- I don’t know how to make a claim. Most companies will provide detailed instructions on how to file a complaint within their employee handbooks. Failure to provide a publicized grievance system may be a violation of state or federal law. If you do decide to make a sexual harassment or discrimination claim, you must do so within either 180 or 300 days of the alleged misconduct (depending on the state).
- I don’t know if I have a case. Even if your employer assures you your termination was not in retaliation to a claim you filed, you may still be facing discrimination. Many lawyers won’t charge you for their advice, and again, may agree to work on a contingency basis.
If you feel as though your employer has retaliated against you for filing a sexual harassment complaint, contact Meyers Law Firm online or call us in the Kansas City area at (816) 994-3240. Our team comprises experienced trial attorneys who focus on employment law, consumer law, and personal injury cases. If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s neglect or treated unfairly by an employer, our attorneys can help.