Some advice remains true for many workplace problems, including sexual harassment, hostile work environment, racial or sexual discrimination, and other forms of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. I am a California attorney, and some concepts seem to apply to all work situations.
The Kaufman Law Firm is dedicated to representing employees in disputes against their employers regarding the harassment laws in California.
Follow Your Company’s Human Resource Policies
If you feel you are subject to workplace harassment or discrimination, do what your company tells you to do in such a situation. In other words, read your employer’s sexual harassment policies and racial discrimination policies, and do what they tell you.
In assessing this racial discrimination and sexual harassment cases, jurors want to see detailed policies on diversity, discrimination, and sexual harassment training as well as basic management techniques. The employees should be educated in these policies and they must be enforced fairly and consistently. Companies can have such policies in writing but do not follow them in practice. If this happens, it often will reflect poorly upon the company in court. Likewise, it may reflect poorly upon the employee if they fail to make use of the policies.
Besides juries, the courts want to see employees taking advantage of the employer’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. If you ignore these policies, the courts may cut your damages or wipe them out entirely.
Therefore, the victim of harassment discrimination in the workplace has the burden of making use of these policies and following the company’s procedures. Typically, these policies direct employees to complain immediately to the company’s human resources department, and thus you should report what you feel is wrong to human resources. When you make reports, be specific about what happened and be sure to include all conduct that you felt was objectionable.
If no written policies exist, complain to your immediate supervisor.
Take Notes of the Relevant Events, But Only the Relevant Events
While your memory might be clear now, when your case comes to court in two or three years the events will be much more difficult to recall. Cases may turn on the nuances of what someone did or said, and you don’t want your memory to be fuzzy at trial. Therefore, taking notes at the time of the events will be an enormous help. Notes made at the time of the events appear more credible than your memories after a lawsuit has started, and jurors will give them more weight.
However, use caution in your note taking. All of the notes could be evidence in your case. Therefore, limit your note taking to only the relevant harassing or discriminatory conduct. Some people go overboard by documenting all transgressions against them, real or perceived. They appear to be vexatious and disagreeable people. Certainly that will not go over well with a jury!
A hostile work environment can take many forms. Did someone draw an offensive picture? Write you a harassing e-mail? Save those items. People sometimes discard these things out of disgust, but they are also destroying their best evidence. These should be kept because you have to prove your case.
You should also save any papers given to you that relate to your problem, such as copies of “write-ups”, policies, etc. By no means should you take confidential or proprietary items from your employer (if you do, you may not be able to use it in your case), but, if such things relate to the harassment or discrimination you are suffering, you should take notes on their author, date, content, where it is kept, and other identifying information so it can be retrieved later on in formal proceedings.
Many people secretly record meetings in a hope to catch someone in a damaging admission. “Aha!” they think, “I’ve got them on tape! They can’t deny it now!” Wrong: someone who secretly records a conversation is in big trouble. In California where I practice law, tape recording conversations without the consent of the other person is a crime and you could be prosecuted for it. Even if you do record damaging admissions, the admissions very likely will not be admitted as evidence in support of your case. However, if you make an admission that damages your case, then very likely it will be in evidence against you. It is a no-win situation for people who make secret tape recordings. The best advice is don’t do it.
A big defense to sexual harassment cases is consent. If you appear to enjoy what is occurring, then certainly you will have a hard time proving that you were harassed or discriminated or that you were in a hostile work environment. By all means, do not play along with something you do not like. Rather, make it clear that you do not like what is going on, and then follow your company’s human resource policies on what to do when you feel harassed or subject to discrimination.