Sexual assault, defined as nonconsensual intimate contact, is illegal. If it happens to you at work, you can report the assault to your company’s human resources department, consult an attorney or file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Jane Foley, who recently retired from a 37-year career working in the Milwaukee district attorney’s office in both the domestic violence and special crimes unit, and labor and employment attorney Barbara Quindel share their advice on how to go about reporting sexual assault in the workplace.
Each case is different, Quindel said, but these steps can serve as a general guide in many situations:
Take action immediately
Quindel stressed the importance of reporting the assault to your employer immediately. If your employer fails to properly handle the situation, the case you bring to an attorney or file with the EEOC is weakened when you wait too long after the incident occurred. In fact, if you choose to report your assault to the EEOC, you must file within 300 days of the incident.
Find an ally
“If you’re going to report this as a woman, you need support, because it’s a really scary thing to do,” Foley said. Find someone you trust either within or outside the company to help you make a plan of action and support you throughout the process.
Write detailed notes of everything that occurred, including names and dates. Take screenshots of relevant emails, text messages and social media posts or messages. Make sure you have several hard copies of all items to present to an HR manager, a senior leader or an attorney.
Devise a strategy
Consider the structure, hierarchies, ranks and relationships within your organization to create the most realistic plan to report the incident. Has a sexual assault case ever happened at the company? If so, what happened to the victim and the harasser? Most companies have an HR manager who handles these situations, but it may make more sense for you to talk first to someone else, such as your immediate supervisor. If, for example, the HR director is a close friend of your harasser, Foley said, you need to take alternative steps to protect yourself while still reporting your assault. You’re not just dealing with the harasser, Foley said, but the entire culture of the company.
Protect your confidentiality
When you go to HR, make sure what you say is kept confidential. Before you tell anyone anything, ask how they will protect you and who else will find out about the information you disclose. If you demand right away that your confidentiality be protected, the HR manager will most likely present a plan for how the situation will be handled, Foley said.
Consult an attorney
If you feel that you cannot trust anyone in your company, if your employer ignores your complaint or if you are terminated as a result of reporting the assault, it’s time to consult an attorney. Quindel said attorneys help you identify your rights and devise a course of action. They can also help you report your case to the federal EEOC and state Equal Rights Division, depending on the situation.
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