CHECKLIST: 10 Steps in Response to Sexual Harassment


Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace may not always know how to protect themselves after it occurs. Below you will find TEN steps to help you successfully protect your rights surrounding harassment at work.  Call an employment attorney at any point you feel uncomfortable with your employer’s handling of the matter.


Victims of unwanted sexual advances by a co-worker must tell their harasser to stop.  The law requires that sexual harassment be the result of unwanted conduct on the part of the harasser.  The law also requires that such harassment be severe and pervasive.  A single dirty joke will not be enough to support a sexual harassment suit. You can find the definition of what the law considers sufficient here.  You must tell the harasser “no” in order to establish the behavior is unwelcome. Make this request in person, through a co-worker or in writing.  The method is not important. What is important, is making the request that your abuser cease the behavior.


Write everything down. Your attorneys will use this documentation to provide evidence of wrongdoing in litigation.  You should create a written account of each incident of harassment that took place.  It is equally important that you retain copies of any evidence you may have of the harassment.  Refer to our earlier blog on specifics of how to properly document a sexual harassment case here.


Report the offensive conduct without delay. Tell a supervisor, manager and/or Human Resources what is happening.  Remain consistent in your story.  Do not let management intimidate you.  Tell management how you would like to see the problem resolved. Co-operate with any investigation conducted by your employer.

You must report the behavior right away.  Delay in reporting may strengthen your employer’s defense against your claims.


Keep on top of the investigation, which may take some time.  Be polite, but be firm.  Stand your ground when asked if you are sure of your facts. Insist on being informed as the inquiry proceeds. Ask to see any written reports of the results of the investigation when it has concluded.  Call an attorney if you are not satisfied with the results, or the behavior does not stop.


Be on the lookout for the following after-effects of sexual harassment:

Personal & Physical

  • Depression
  • Sleeplessness/Nightmares
  • Stomach problems
  • Anger/Mood Swings
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal/Isolation
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Problems with intimacy

    Problems on the Job

  • Decreased performance at work
  • Absenteeism
  • Defamation by other employees
  • Adverse actions by employers*

Victims should seek counseling if they experience any of these symptoms.  You will better cope with difficulties at work, and it will strengthen your case. Get thee to a counselor!


Try to anticipate any adverse actions* your employer may decide to take against you.  Adverse action is the legal term for steps taken by an employer against you, such as a demotion or reassignment of your job duties to other employees. You or your attorney may want to file a charge with the DFEH or EEOC. Your employer may not legally retaliate against you for doing so. You should list any events that reflect retaliation in claims you make against your employer.


Read your company handbook.  Many employees FAIL to read up on an employer’s policies. You need to inform yourself.  There may be terms governing your claim, such as forced arbitration or methods for handling your claim that your employer failed to comply with.  Provide a copy of this handbook to your attorney.


Do not expect Human Resources to look out for your rights. A manager might acknowledge your complaint, but tell you they will take care of the problem.  HR might say there is no need to get an attorney involved. For the purpose of sexual harassment claims, they are an agent of your employer. With this in mind, if HR tells you that you do not have a claim, talk to a lawyer anyway. It may be the case that HR is just telling you what your employer wants you to believe.


As with any legal claim, there are deadlines that must be met. Speak to an attorney about any deadline that applies to your claims. If you fail to make your deadline, your rights to sue may be permanently lost.


Call an attorney if you believe you have a claim for sexual harassment. There are many factors that will affect the viability of a claim.  An attorney can advise you of any steps you might have missed in preparing your claim.  An employment attorney can help a victim protect their rights. After you have spoken to an employment attorney, you can choose the best strategy to move forward.

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