Unfortunately, sexual harassment at workplace is still a frequent and reoccurring event in California. We are still surprised at some of the inappropriate and ridiculous conduct by employers and their employees when our law firm gets calls from potential clients. Considering that hostile work environments are still very common, people want to know how best to complain to Human Resources (HR) at work. How should you complain to minimize the possibility of retaliation?
Quick Legal Overview
Usually, sex harassment is a type of hostile work environment. Under California law, it is unlawful for employers to sexually harass employees in the workplace. Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), sexual harassment is defined as harassment because of sex. More specifically, sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances, or visual, physical, or verbal conduct of a sexual nature. Our main sexual harassment page throughly examines this area of law. If you want all the nitty gritty, visit that page.
Visual conduct includes making inappropriate and sexual gestures as well as showing sexually suggestive material in the work place such as pornography. Verbal conduct obviously includes sexually charged comments such as comments about a person’s body parts or comments regarding the person involves in sexual acts. Verbal conduct also includes jokes. Finally, physical conduct includes touching the body of another inappropriately. If any of these above things are happening to you in your workplace, whether it is a co-worker or a supervisor, you should contact a sexual harassment lawyer immediately.
Complaining to HR About Sexual Harassment
Often, employees will complain about the sexual harassment to his or her superiors or to HR. However, employers may not respond properly to an employee’s complaint of sexual harassment. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) sets forth a comprehensive procedure for HR and employers in the event of a sexual harassment claim by an employee.
- Upon an employee’s complaint, the employer should inform the employee of his or her legal rights.
- The employer should do a full and complete investigation.
- If the employer finds there to be sexual harassment (not surprisingly – they never do), the employer should respond timely by taking action against the sexual harasser, and the employer should take necessary steps to prevent it from happening again.
Unfortunately, HR and employers do not always respond in this fashion. A lot of times, the employee will complain and the employer will not take any steps to protect the employee’s rights or prevent it from happening again. For example, our firm has seen far too many instances where the employee complained and the employer either ignored the complaint, told the employee to handle the matter on their own, or go through the motions of a superficial procedure, yet still allow the sexual harasser to work with, or in close proximity to, the harassed employee.
How Best to Complain to HR About Harassment
In our experience, we find that the most effective complaints to human resources have the following characteristics:
- Polite & respectful – do not be hyper-aggressive, threatening, or self-righteous
- Helpful – meaning the employee offers practical solutions to assist HR in dealing with the problem
- Written – always put your complaint in writing and keep a copy
- Specific – dates, details, and witnesses
If you have complained to your employer about a hostile sexual environment, and your employer is failing to take any action to stop such conduct, then you should contact a great employment lawyer immediately.
Sadly, sexual harassment in the workplace is still a common occurrence in California. Most employees are unaware of their rights when it comes to harassment, and a lot of times, employers fail to inform their employees of such rights. Therefore, if you feel like you have been sexually harassed, you should contact a sexual harassment lawyer immediately.