Employers accused of sexual harassment at work can be quick to blame the victim. When this reaction escalates into forms of retaliation, it can take the claim to a whole other level of liability. If your employer seems reluctant to accept the facts of a sexual harassment claim, it could be an attempt to lessen the legal effects of a claim.
However, blaming victims of sexual harassment may not decrease an employer’s liability. Employers routinely suggest that the harassment may not have occurred had the employee dressed in a more tasteful manner or may point to a victim’s own compliance with sexual advances as reasons for continued sexual behavior in the workplace. Though such responses may be typical, they are not likely to decrease sexual harassment liability when a justified claim is made.
It’s an employer’s responsibility to take corrective action when allegations of sexual harassment surface or when there is reason to believe sexual harassment is occurring. This is true regardless of the type of victim shaming or blaming taking place against an employee. It’s equally important for employers to take corrective action against the kind of victim shaming or blaming that could lead to further liability.
The Law on Sexual Harassment
In actuality a sexual harassment claim turns less on the consent of an adversely affected employee and more on whether the sexual harassment was unwanted and unwelcome. In effect, an employee may go along with or consent to proposed sexual harassment and still make a valid claim against her employer for sexual harassment.
Also, the assertion that an employee was asking for it – whether by dressing provocatively or by any other type of behavior is not likely to remove liability when all other factors are in place for a valid claim.
At the federal level, employees are protected from sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which states that employers may not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, or sex. Sexual harassment is a form of legally prohibited sex based discrimination when an employer allows unwanted sexual behavior to proceed creating a hostile environment. It is also illegal as quid pro quo sexual harassment – instances in which employers condition jobs or promotions on the performance of sexual acts.
5 Legal Ways to Overcome Sexual Harassment Victim Blaming
In any sexual harassment claim, it’s important that employees have the ability to speak out about their experiences fully and in detail. An employer may be fully prepared to take advantage of any situation in which an employee is willing to surrender or forfeit their right to be heard.
Corroborated accounts and a documented history of company complaints and grievances the employee has filed with the HR department or with supervisors and managers, or even conversations with fellow co-workers, are all fertile ground for court evidence or testimony should the need arise. Employees can documents these instances for future reference as a an indication of the type and frequency of discrimination he or she has experienced.
Appeal to a higher authority.
If your employer blames you for your sexual harassment claims, it may be time to appeal to a higher authority. This may mean contacting someone higher up in the company. It’s always a good idea to contact your company’s HR department for information on the grievance and sexual harassment policies at your job as well as the proper chain of command for filing. HR personnel can also help identify the proper contact or contacts, even when your own supervisor is uncooperative.
Check federal and state laws on retaliation.
If the victim blaming escalates to adverse employment action, such as demotion, pay cuts, or even termination, it’s important to remember you could have a case for retaliation under most federal and state statutes. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee in light of a discrimination claim, proceeding or ongoing trial.
The federal law governing retaliation is the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s prohibition of sex discrimination covers sexual harassment claims for companies with 20 or more employees. State retaliation laws often mimic the federal rule but offer more coverage. For instance, California’s discrimination and retaliation laws apply to companies with 5 or more employees.
Find strength in numbers.
If you’ve been harassed at work, chances are you aren’t the only one. If there are co-workers at your company who are also experiencing similar activity, it may be helpful to your cause to reach out to them. Even if the only outcome is receiving valuable information about their previous experiences, it could be helpful to your claim
Sexual harassment is a very touchy subject. Keep in mind not everyone will feel comfortable discussing such a sensitive issue, especially with a job or career on the line. However, there is strength in numbers, and a concerted effort may be just what you need to overcome any victim blaming or shaming associated with your claim.
Hire an attorney as early on in the process as possible.
Finding an attorney to handle a sexual harassment case involving victim blaming is essential, and doing so as early on in the process is also ideal. An experienced attorney can help navigate your responses to victim blaming and other retaliatory behavior – with an eye toward future litigation.
An experienced attorney can also help answer questions regarding your legal options at any stage in the grievance or claim filing process with the EEOC. Contact your attorney for detailed information concerning remedies in sexual harassment cases as well as legal options at both the federal and state level.
Getting Past Victim Shaming and Blaming in Sexual Harassment Cases
Every report of sexual harassment deserves to be taken seriously. Often victim shaming and blaming highlights an employer’s tendency to discount an employee’s claim in defense of the company culture or in retaliation for speaking out about already pervasive problems.
It’s important for employees to be on the lookout for company sexual harassment investigations that fall short of the diligence and thoroughness expected due to victim shaming and blaming. Employers may use victim shaming and blaming to intimidate, manipulate or persuade employees to stay silent about instances of sexual harassment or may attempt to use blaming and shaming to convince the employee that he or she has little chance of successfully pursuing a claim.
However, with the help of an experienced employment rights attorney, employees can face victim shaming and blaming and deal with the effects of such behavior from a sound legal foundation. Both federal and state laws are in place to ensure that workers pursue their careers in a workplace free of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. If you’ve experience sexual harassment contact your attorney immediately to hold your employer accountable regardless of retaliatory or abusive behavior designed to blame or shame the victim.