The recent revelations of sexual harassment and assault by politicians, movie moguls and stars, corporate officials and sports personalities have risen to a crescendo that cannot be ignored by or hidden from the public, law enforcement or civil courts.
The media focus on abusive conduct spotlights the tip of the iceberg, the high visibility events. But most abuse occurs in more mundane circumstances, especially in the employment setting. Most often, a senior person abuses a junior or new employee.
Women employed in more common professions are coming forward with their accusations of abuse at the hands of supervisors. It takes courage to complain about a person’s abusive boss. The fear of retaliation is central and keen – and correctly so. Usually, the abused person is discouraged from reporting the abuse or seeking a remedy. Unfortunately, it seems most abusers escape punishment.
We are realizing that female employees have endured sexual harassment for decades – or longer. Now it is clear that men and young boys are not immune from exploitation.
In our law practice, inquiries into legal recourse for individuals abused in the work place have escalated since the recent wave of media coverage. Inquirers seek personal and job protection, in some cases, from a nightmarish job setting. And, they seek recourse in the form of monetary compensation for their travail.
The law protects those who complain. The first step is to contact an attorney. He or she will advise you, probably, to express your complaints up the organization’s levels of authority. The process is usually in confidence and the boss or supervisor will not know the identity of the complainer. Your employee handbook or policy documents will describe the process. Your attorney will help interpret the organization’s policies and guide you through the process. It is usually advisable to have the attorney intervene so that the employer knows you are represented — as a protection against retaliation.
Usually, the employer agrees to a monetary settlement rather than defending against allegations of abuse in court or in the media—or a negative jury verdict. If not, we pursue the employer with vigor.
Legal remedies include compensation for sexual harassment, abuse, hostile work environment and retaliation, among others. Each one includes potential money damages, including punitive damages and reimbursement for legal fees and court costs. The awards represent compensation for employee harassment and suffering. They also punish the perpetrators and deter others from pursuing similar abusive conduct.
Rather than waiting, it is better to seek legal advice immediately. Delay causes loss of witnesses’ memories, evidence, photos and documents, making it more difficult to succeed against the perpetrator.
Abusive individuals should not be able to commit their humiliations, invasions of privacy, personal space and body or escape punishment. They should be punished and the victims compensated for their suffering. It is time to stop sexual abuse on the job. And, it is possible.