The work place should be a place of comfort. Some people call work a second home. Others see work as a means to an end. People cherish their jobs because they provide a way to care for our families and ourselves. Jobs also provide some stability in our life. However, this can all come crashing down if a supervisor, peer, or co-worker starts to advance unwelcomed conduct towards you. Once harassment begins, the work place turns in to a place to avoid, rather than a place of safety. The employer has a duty to supervise, and stop the harassment once it begins. Unfortunately, harassment affects thousands of people a day in the United States.
Harassment in the work place comes in all forms: sexual, race, gender, age, disability, religion and national origin, to name a few. It can be verbal, physical, or both. Being on the receiving end can be discouraging and frustrating. You can lose your job because of it or it can be so bad that you quit.
In order to have a claim against your employer, the harassment must rise to the level of hostile, intimidating, and offensive. You must feel that the harassment is intolerable. Harassment can come in the form of an isolated, single incident. Other times, harassment may drag out over time on a daily basis. There is not a defined time period set out in order for you to bring a claim. Here is a list of actions you should take if you are being harassed at work:
Document the incident(s)
One of the most important things you can do is document the incident. Some of our clients have kept journals or notes that include the date and description of the incident. Their documentation has also included blurbs about how the incident made them feel, during and afterwards. This is not only a great idea to have evidence down the road, but a journal of events can also remind you of the details surrounding the incident. Remember to include the date and time of the incident.
Evidence can come in the form of emails, phone call history, text messages, recordings, letters, and so on. While harassment can happen in front of other co-workers, a lot of the time incidents occur out of the awareness of others. If you decide to bring a lawsuit or claim after the incident you will eventually ask for your work file during discovery. Having a lot of this information pre-suit will allow your attorney to start building your case before your employer is notified.
Write down names of witnesses
If you are fortunate enough to have witnesses to the harassment then you need to keep a list of names who may have seen the incident(s). This list can include co-workers, supervisors, employees in the HR department, and even people not employed by your employer. In one of our harassment cases, the best witness we had was a guy who delivered water jugs to the building in the morning before most of the employees arrived. In a lot of instances, harassment occurs outside of the view of others. If someone is around when harassment occurs, make a note of who it was because their eye-witness testimony will be crucial to your case.
Follow your employer’s policy on reporting harassment
Our clients are usually not aware of the reporting guidelines they are supposed to follow when they are being harassed at work. If you do not follow the reporting guidelines then your employer, the potential defendant, will always use this against you if you make a claim. You do not want to be in this situation. If you do not know the policy, then seek out your employment manual or handbook and find the reporting guidelines. Your employer has a duty to provide this to you once you begin working.
Report the harassment to the right person
After you figure out the steps to take in regards to reporting work place harassment you should follow those steps. If you are supposed to report up the chain of command then do so. If you are supposed to tell your manager then do so. If you are to report to Human Resources… then do so. Again, it is very important you report the harassment to the right person. If the person who is harassing you is the person you are supposed to report to, then tell his or her superior, or go to someone else in HR. You will want to keep reporting the incident, especially if it continues, even if they ignore you. Make sure your voice is heard, but also make sure to do it in a peaceful manner.
Stay calm and composed
There is no way around it: harassment is difficult to endure. Most of our clients ask, “why me?” You want to be the one who is confident and poised if you are going to make a claim. If you create hostility before you report the incident or make a claim, your employer will surely use this against you. In our experience, the more calm and composed you are means your story will be heard louder than your employer’s. This does not mean you cannot be emotional about the situation; it means you should be the one whose story is most trustworthy.
Seek out an attorney for advice
Regardless of whether you are fired or not, you may have a claim against your employer for harassment. It is illegal for an employer to fire you for reporting a complaint. Unfortunately, a lot of employers don’t follow the law, especially when a supervisor is the one doing the harassing. An experience employment attorney will guide you through the claim process and give you advice on steps to take before you file an EEOC claim.
Making a harassment claim can be a very stressful process. The employment lawyers at Krause & Kinsman will take that stress and place it on their shoulders. Do not feel like you are alone. Call our office today at (816) 760-2700.
Robert Kinsman is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Robert Kinsman is passionate about normalizing the life of his clients after they have been seriously injured. Learn more about his experience here.