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In the BLOG

Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace

You’ve been sexually harassed, but what do you do about it?  Depending on where you work, you may have several options.  Here are the basics about reporting sexual harassment:

Who do I report sexual harassment to?

The first step is to report sexual harassment to your supervisor.  If your supervisor is the harasser, report to another supervisor and/or to human resources.  Depending on who you work for, you can also file a complaint with your employer or a government agency.

Federal employees

If you work for the federal government, contact an EEO counselor within 45 days of the harassment to initiate informal counseling. After the counseling is complete, you can file a formal complaint.

State/local government employees

Your agency may have a procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints. For example, state and local government employers may require you to contact your agency’s EEO officer or counselor within a certain period of time.  Frequently, the time period is very short. Check your employer’s policy or ask Human Resources to make sure you don’t miss a deadline. If you aren’t required to file an internal complaint, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and/or a similar state or local agency, like the DC Office of Human Rights.

Private-sector employees

You can file a complaint with the EEOC or another administrative state or local agency.  You must file with EEOC within as few as 180 days. State and local agency deadlines may be shorter.  If your employer has a procedure for handling sexual harassment complaints, you can also file an internal complaint.  However, filing an internal complaint with your employer doesn’t extend the deadline for filing an administrative complaint.

What should I include in my complaint?

You don’t need to write a novel, but your complaint should include the basic details of what happened:

  • When were you harassed?
  • Who harassed you?
  • What did he/she do or say?
  • How did you respond?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Where there any witnesses?

It may seem obvious, but make sure your complaint clearly states that you believe you were sexually harassed.  This is particularly important to protect you from retaliation. The law doesn’t prohibit retaliation against an employee who complains in general.  If you just complain that your supervisor was 

Do I need to include evidence with my complaint?

For the initial complaint, you don’t necessarily need to include evidence.  However, if you have evidence, you may want to include it if it makes your complaint stronger and more credible.  This could include text messages or emails from your harasser. If there is an investigation of your complaint, or you move forward with a lawsuit, you will want to provide evidence then.

How do I deal with retaliation?

Federal law, and many state laws, prohibit covered employers from retaliating against employees who complain about sexual harassment.  However, it’s no surprise that employers do retaliate. If your employer retaliates against you, write down the details of what happened, and immediately report the incident to a supervisor, HR, the EEOC, or a similar state or local agency.  The same time limits apply for reporting retaliation. But remember, reporting sexual harassment doesn’t mean your employer can’t fire you if you truly do engage in misconduct or fail to perform.

How can an attorney help me?

You can always file a complaint on your own, but it may be helpful to consult with an experienced employment attorney.  A lawyer can make sure you meet deadlines, figure out what information to include, advise you about who to file your complaint with, and file the complaint on behalf.  If you reported sexual harassment or are considering filing a complaint, Alan Lescht and Associates can help. Our attorneys represent federal government employees around the world, and state and local government and private sector employees in DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.  We handle administrative complaints with the EEOC, DCOHR, MCCR, and similar agencies, and we litigate sexual harassment cases in federal and state courts.

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