3 Things To Do Before Suing For Workplace Harassment or Discrimination
If you believe you are a victim of workplace harassment or discrimination, there are three specific steps you should take to protect your rights. These actions might help stop the mistreatment and improve your work situation.
Even if they don’t, however, taking these steps is still very important to helping preserve your right to sue and proving your case in court if you decide to file a workplace harassment or discrimination suit.
1) Talk To The Offender
It’s probably the last thing you want to do, but step one is to confront the person or people who are guilty of workplace harassment or discrimination. From a practical and efficiency perspective, this is often the best and fastest way to end unwanted behavior.
Legally speaking, putting the abuser(s) on notice will help you prove some important facts if you do end up filing a lawsuit later on.
In cases of workplace harassment, for example, the employee must prove that the behavior was unwelcome. This point comes up often in sexual harassment cases in which the offender claims the victim laughed at or even liked the behavior they are now complaining about.
If, aften talking to the offending parties, your situation does not improve, deliver your concerns in writing, making sure to keep a copy for yourself.
2) File A Complaint Within Your Company
If your conversation and/or letter to the offender doesn’t solve the problem (or if you skipped step one because you feared for your safety), the next step is to file a formal complaint with your company’s HR department.
If you’re not sure how to file a workplace harassment or discrimination complaint, ask your company’s HR representative and make sure to follow and verbal and/or written instructions exactly. Once again, keep a copy of any documentation, notes, or other written materials for your own records.
By filing a formal complaint, your are giving your company an opportunity to address your complaint, investigate, and hopefully resolve the problem. Importantly, you are also preserving your legal rights.
In a harassment case, your ability to hold the company liable (as opposed to just the individual offender) is based on whether the company know about, and had the opportunity to remedy, the harassment.
In cases of workplace discrimination, filing a complaint puts the company on notice of the problem. If your company fails to take corrective action and improve the situation, you may have a stronger case for punitive damages.
3) File An Administrative Charge
Before you can file a workplace harassment or discrimination lawsuit, under federal law, you must file an administrative charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or similar state agency.
If you try and file your lawsuit without first having filed an administrative charge, your lawsuit will be thrown out.
Also, many states additionally require employees file an administrative complaint with the state’s fair employment practices agency before filing a workplace harassment or discrimination lawsuit, so be sure to check if this is required in your state.
One your lawsuit is filed, the EEOC or state employment practices agency will notify your employer. Either agency may dismiss your charge, investigate, or request that you and your employer attempt to settle (or mediate) your dispute.
Assuming that you and your employer do not settle and the EEOC or state agency don’t dismiss your charge, once they’ve finished processing it, they will issue you a “right to sue” letter. Once you’ve received this letter, you (or your attorney) may file the lawsuit.
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