Sexual harassment is a serious and prevalent issue that can create a toxic and unsafe work environment. Employment law attorney Andrea Downing discusses sexual harassment in the workplace and how to document these incidents in this week’s FAQ Friday.
What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?
Downing explains that sexual harassment in the workplace can range from sexual assault to a series of frequent inappropriate comments or events. “One-time incidents may not be enough to constitute sexual harassment because there is a line of cases that say inappropriate conduct in the workplace is not necessarily illegal,” says Downing. “The harassment has to go beyond a stray comment in order to be actionable. Your boss coming in and saying ‘Hey you look great in that dress’ does not necessarily count as sexual harassment alone. Something that would be more likely to be constituted as sexual harassment would be a comment every other week on your looks and an unwanted physical touch from your boss mixed in with other offensive behaviors.”
How should you document instances of sexual harassment?
Though there are numerous ways to document sexual harassment in the workplace, one of the best methods is to keep a record through Word documents. “When you get home, using your personal computer, create a Word document and write up exactly what happened,” Downing explains. “Keep it factual, don’t editorialize, don’t turn it into your own personal journal. You just want a straight account of what happened.” Ultimately, the documentation can be used as evidence in a sexual harassment claim. Avoid personal information or comments about unrelated events because the entire document will be disclosed to the company. If it keeps happening, continue documenting the incidents every day on a new Word document, which will effectively create a digital time stamp for accurate record keeping.
Even if you’re confident in your documentation and Human Resources representative, you should still consider speaking with a lawyer. “Consulting an attorney will ensure that you cover all your bases and give HR the exact information that they need not only to put the company on notice of the potential liability but also to completely protect yourself from legal retaliation from the company in the future,” says Downing.