As explained by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace sexual harassment is strictly prohibited. Employees and job applicants should not be harassed based on their sex or gender. Sexual harassment can come in many different forms, including:
- Unwelcome sexual advances;
- Requests for sexual favors (quid pro quo);
- Verbal sexual harassment, including comments, insults, and “jokes”; and
- Physical harassment of a sexual nature.
All allegations of sexual harassment should be reported. When reports are received, companies and organizations have a duty to take these allegations seriously. Here, our Virginia sexual harassment attorneys provide a guide to reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
Reporting of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in Virginia
- Take Notes and Document What Happened: Employees should take proactive steps to record any sexual harassment that they endured. No incident is too small or too frivolous to document. As a starting point, employees should note exactly what occurred, when it occurred, and who was present. Additionally, employees should preserve any other relevant evidence.
- Consult Your Employment Handbook and Report the Harassment: An employee handbook may include information about a company’s sexual harassment policy. If there is a policy in place, employees should do their best to comply with that policy. Most often, the policy will include submitting a formal, written complaint to a manager or to the HR department.
- Devise and Implement Procedures to Handle Sexual Harassment: It is imperative that employers devise and implement effective protocols that can help to prevent sexual harassment and enable quick, effective response to any allegations. With a well-considered policy, a company can reduce the likelihood of workplace sexual harassment, effectively and fairly address issues, and limit the risk of liability. At a minimum, a sexual harassment policy should (1) require supervisors to report incidents of sexual harassment; (2) permit both formal and informal complaints of harassment to be made; (3) provide a mechanism for bypassing a harassing supervisor when making a complaint; and (4) include strong anti-retaliation language.
- Take All Claims Seriously and Allow a Formal Complaint: All sexual harassment allegations should be taken seriously. Employers should never disregard a complaint. As a general rule, it is best to devise a sexual harassment prevention policy that allows employees to submit formal complaints in multiple different ways. By doing so, a company can ensure that an employee always has a safe person available—whether through their immediate supervisor or the HR department.
- Conduct a Comprehensive Investigation: Employers should not make assumptions about sexual harassment allegations. Every complaint requires a fair, transparent, and comprehensive investigation. The investigation should be prompt, thorough, and impartial. Importantly, the alleged harasser should not have any direct or indirect control over the investigation. As part of the investigation, make sure that the employee who filed the complaint is protected from facing any form of retaliation or punishment. Before completing the investigation, the employer should take steps to make sure that harassmetn does not continue.
- Be Ready to Seek Legal Guidance: Finally, employers should always be ready to seek professional guidance. Whether you need help devising a sexual harassment policy, conducting an independent investigation, or responding to an employment lawsuit, our Virginia sexual harassment attorneys can help.
Call Our Virginia Sexual Harassment Lawyers Today
At Pierce / McCoy, our Virginia sexual harassment attorneys are experienced, strategic advocates for clients. We represent both employers and employees across a wide range of employment law matters. To schedule a strictly confidential initial consultation, please contact our legal team today. From our law offices in Norfolk and Richmond, we serve communities in Hampton Roads and Central Virginia.
Disclaimer: This article contains general information. It should not be taken as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been created. If you have specific questions about your rights or your options, you should speak to an experienced lawyer about your individual case.