By Jack Tuckner, Esq.
How serious does sexual harassment have to be to file a complaint in work? Not too serious. You don’t want it to get to the level, and I understand it. If you’re being sexually harassed in the workplace, you don’t wanna be fired on top of it. So when you’re in this kind of a quandary, I understand the problem is that you feel reluctant to report the harasser because you feel that then the marriage of you and this employer may not be saveable and you may lose your job. But the question is, can you put this person off? Let’s assume we’re talking about a supervisor, a manager, and let’s assume, because if it were coworker or subordinate, you’d say, “Get the heck outta here, don’t talk to me like that again”, and, “I’m gonna do X, Y, and Z” – like you would say to a friend, you’re equals.
But if it’s someone above you, right, in the corporate food chain who has authority over you, who could get you in trouble, who could get you fired, of course there’s reluctance, and that’s what makes it illegal – sex discrimination in the form of sexual harassment. Even if it seems like somewhat innocent flirtation, it’s not innocent if it makes you feel uncomfortable, awkward, or just icky, right? You shouldn’t have to get up in the morning and get pains in your stomach because you know you’re gonna have to deal with some type of leering inappropriate manager, right? And if this manager, let’s call him Rick, doesn’t take the hint from you when you say, “I really think we need to keep this professional. And I’m really uncomfortable, Rick, when you speak to me this way, or when you joke with me this way, when you ask me these personal questions”. If Rick takes the hint and apologizes and never does it again, you’re hooked up, that’s great.
But if it doesn’t work, if the simple just saying like a norm, like a human being, “I don’t appreciate the way you’re speaking with me”, doesn’t work, you do need to complain, not only to make it go away and to make it stop, but that will protect your job. Because by complaining, and when I say complaining, I mean formally, right? If it didn’t work, and you’re in this difficult situation that they’re not paying you to be in this situation, that’s not part of your job description, you must complain to management above Rick, to the Human Resources, the CEO. It doesn’t matter as long as your complaint is in writing – not going overboard, not threatening, just saying, “I need help because I’m uncomfortable and I feel that I’m being treated differently in the workplace and I’m being discriminated against, and it’s a bit of a hostile work environment for me because Rick is doing X, Y, and Z. That makes me uncomfortable.” The company then must investigate that complaint and they have to fix it. And they’re not permitted to retaliate against you for making that complaint.
Even if they really love Rick and Rick’s been with the company for 22 years and you haven’t, they can’t take an adverse employment action against the complainer because that would be illegal retaliation. So it’s at least protective. It’s showing regard for yourself. It’s standing up to this unlawful violation of your civil rights and let the company look into it and resolve this for you because you do not have to withstand unwelcome sexual attention, sexual energy, flirtation, anything by a colleague, particularly your boss who is hitting on you or making you feel awkward as an employee based on your sex. My name is Jack Tuckner. I’m an employment lawyer in New York. If you want to talk about your particular issues in total confidence and free of charge to help you navigate these difficult times, please give me a call, an email, a text. The firm is Tuckner Sipser, Weinstock and Sipser. And again, I’m Jack Tuckner. Take care.