How To File A Workplace Harassment Complaint

You can always file a harassment complaint with the EEOC about the harassment. Also, you can retain our employment law attorney to help with no upfront money from you.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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What is workplace harassment?

As an employee in California, you possess fundamental rights to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness in your workplace. The state upholds strong protections against workplace harassment, recognizing that everyone deserves to work in an environment that is free from discrimination, hostility, and intimidation. In California, both employees and employers are held responsible for fostering a working atmosphere that promotes a sense of well-being for all individuals involved.

While many employers strive to create a positive and supportive work environment, there are unfortunately instances where some fail to address harassment and discrimination effectively. Workplace harassment can take various forms, including but not limited to verbal abuse, offensive jokes, intimidation, unwelcome advances, and any behavior that creates a hostile or uncomfortable environment for employees.

As a victim of workplace harassment in California, it is essential to understand your rights and the options available to seek justice and relief. California law provides avenues for employees to file complaints and seek damages when they experience harassment or discrimination at work. If you find yourself in such a distressing situation, taking the following steps is crucial:

  1. Document the Incidents: Keep a detailed record of the incidents of harassment you experience or witness. Include dates, times, locations, the individuals involved, and any relevant details about the harassment.
  1. Report the Harassment Internally: If possible, report the harassment to your employer or the appropriate authority within your organization. Companies are typically required to have internal procedures for handling harassment complaints, such as going through HR, and they are obligated to investigate the claims.
  1. Consult With A Work Harassment Lawyer: It is essential to seek advice from an experienced employment lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment cases. They can guide you through the process, assess the strength of your case, and help you understand your rights and potential remedies.
  1. File a Complaint with Government Agencies: If the internal complaint process does not yield satisfactory results, you have the option to file a formal complaint with government agencies, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  1. Pursue Legal Action: If your attempts to resolve the matter through internal channels and government agencies are unsuccessful, your sexual harassment lawyer can help you file a lawsuit against the responsible parties to seek damages and appropriate remedies.

California law prohibits retaliation against employees who report workplace harassment or participate in investigations related to harassment complaints. This protection ensures that employees can assert their rights without fear of adverse consequences from their employer.

By taking appropriate action against workplace harassment, you not only protect your rights but also contribute to creating a safer and more respectful work environment for yourself and your colleagues. Remember that seeking legal advice early in the process can be critical in building a strong case and maximizing your chances of obtaining a fair resolution.

Workplace harassment is a serious issue that California treats with the utmost gravity. As an employee, you have the right to work in an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination. If you find yourself subjected to harassment at work, do not hesitate to reach out to an employment lawyer to understand your options and seek justice for the mistreatment you have endured.

Can you sue for workplace harassment in California?

As an employee, you can sue for workplace harassment in California. The state of California provides robust legal protections against workplace harassment and discrimination. If you have been a victim of harassment in the workplace, you have the right to seek recourse through the legal system.

In California, workplace harassment lawsuits typically fall under two primary laws:

  1. California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): FEHA is the state law that prohibits harassment and discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, and more. Under FEHA, both the victim of harassment and the employer can be held liable for the harassment.
  1. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act: Title VII is a federal law that also prohibits workplace discrimination and harassment based on similar protected characteristics. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

To sue for workplace harassment, you should generally follow these steps:

  1. Exhaust Internal Remedies: In many cases, before filing a lawsuit, you may need to exhaust internal remedies within your company by filing a complaint with your employer’s Human Resources department or management.
  1. File a Complaint with Government Agencies: If the internal resolution process does not yield satisfactory results, you can file a complaint with government agencies such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies investigate discrimination and harassment complaints and may attempt to mediate a resolution.
  1. Obtain a Right-to-Sue Letter: After filing a complaint with the DFEH or EEOC, you will receive a right-to-sue letter, which gives you the authorization to proceed with a lawsuit in court.
  1. File a Lawsuit: With the right-to-sue letter, you can proceed to file a lawsuit against the employer or individuals responsible for the harassment. Your employment lawyer will guide you through this process.

Keep in mind that workplace harassment lawsuits can be complex and may require gathering evidence, witnesses, and legal arguments to build a strong case. Working with an experienced employment lawyer who specializes in harassment cases is essential to navigate the legal system and maximize your chances of a successful outcome.

If you believe you have experienced workplace harassment, it is important to take action promptly, as there are time limits (statute of limitations) for filing harassment complaints and lawsuits in California. The statute of limitations for filing a harassment complaint with the DFEH is generally one year from the date of the last incident of harassment, while for federal claims, it is typically 300 days from the last incident.

Always consult with an employment lawyer to understand your rights, options, and the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.

How do you identify workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment is a serious issue that can create a toxic and detrimental environment for employees. In California, the recognition of harassment is well-defined by the California Department of Justice (DOJ). Harassment is not limited to explicit sexual advances or behavior motivated by sexual desire; rather, it encompasses a broader range of actions that can lead to an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.

It is important to note that harassment extends beyond traditional gender-based discrimination and includes conduct based on an individual’s actual or perceived gender identity or sex-related characteristics. The California DOJ emphasizes that hostile behavior tied to any of the following characteristics can be considered harassment:

  1. Actual Gender Identity: An individual’s deeply-felt identification as male, female, or something else, which may not necessarily align with the sex assigned at birth.
  1. Perceived Gender Identity: When others wrongly perceive an individual’s gender identity, leading to mistreatment or discrimination based on that misconception.
  1. Actual Sexual Orientation: An individual’s emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to others of the same or different sex.
  1. Perceived Sexual Orientation: Discrimination or harassment based on others’ mistaken beliefs about an individual’s sexual orientation.
  1. Pregnancy: Treating a person unfavorably due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  1. Childbirth: Harassment arising from an employee’s recent childbirth or medical conditions related to childbirth.
  1. Other Medical Conditions: Harassment based on an individual’s medical conditions unrelated to pregnancy, childbirth, gender, or sexual orientation.

It is essential to remember that workplace harassment can manifest in various forms, such as verbal comments, offensive jokes, derogatory slurs, visual displays, physical intimidation, and other hostile actions. No one should fear reporting harassment, even if the situation they have observed or experienced does not precisely match what they have seen on television or heard from others.

In California, determining whether a hostile work environment exists depends on the totality of the circumstances. This means that each harassment case is evaluated based on its unique set of facts and circumstances, rather than being compared to other cases. The focus is on the impact of the behavior on the victim and whether it creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile, intimidating, or offensive.

If you believe you are experiencing workplace harassment in California, it is crucial to take the following steps:

  1. Document Incidents: Keep a detailed record of any harassment incidents, including dates, times, locations, individuals involved, and a description of the behavior.
  1. Report the Harassment: Inform your employer or the appropriate authority within your organization about the harassment you are facing. Employers are legally obligated to address harassment complaints promptly and effectively.
  1. Seek Legal Advice: Consult with an experienced employment lawyer who can provide guidance on your rights and the appropriate steps to take to protect yourself and address the harassment.
  1. File a Complaint: If internal channels do not resolve the issue, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from harassment, and California law provides strong protections to ensure this right is upheld. By taking action against workplace harassment, you contribute to a safer and more respectful workplace for yourself and others.

How do you report workplace harassment to your employer?

Reporting workplace harassment to your employer is an important step in addressing and resolving the issue effectively. Taking prompt action not only helps protect your rights but also ensures that your employer is aware of the problem and can take appropriate measures to address it.

As soon as you experience or witness any form of harassment in the workplace, report it to your employer or the designated authority within your organization. Timely reporting can prevent the situation from escalating and can help in gathering evidence.

In California, employers can be held liable for harassment of non-supervisory employees or even non-employees, such as clients or customers, if they knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. This means your employer has a legal responsibility to address harassment complaints promptly and effectively.

If your employer is not aware of the harassment, you still have the right to hold the harassing employee personally liable for their actions. By reporting the harassment, you increase the chances of stopping the misconduct and seeking justice.

Your employer should have a well-defined policy in place for reporting and investigating harassment claims. This policy outlines the procedures for reporting harassment, the individuals you can contact to make a complaint, and the steps the company will take to address the issue. Take the time to review and understand your company’s harassment reporting policy. Knowing the steps and procedures can help you navigate the process and ensure that your complaint is handled appropriately.

Before reporting the harassment, make sure to document the details of the incident, including dates, times, locations, and the individuals involved. This documentation can be crucial if further investigation is required. If you report the harassment and your employer does not take appropriate action to address your complaint, be persistent. Follow up with your employer or the relevant authority to inquire about the progress of the investigation and the actions being taken to resolve the issue.

If you believe your employer is not handling your harassment complaint properly or if the harassment persists despite your report, consider seeking advice from an employment lawyer. They can guide you on your rights and legal options to address the situation effectively.

Remember that reporting workplace harassment is not only your right but also a responsible course of action to promote a safe and respectful work environment for yourself and your colleagues. By taking action and reporting harassment promptly, you contribute to holding individuals accountable for their actions and creating a workplace free from harassment and discrimination.

How do you report workplace harassment to the government?

If you have experienced workplace harassment and your internal efforts to address the issue have not yielded satisfactory results, you have the option to file a complaint with the EEOC or California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Filing a complaint with the government agency is an important step to seek justice and ensure that your rights are protected.

You can file your complaint with the DFEH online, by mail, or over the phone. The DFEH provides accessible channels to make the process as straightforward as possible.

To ensure a thorough investigation of your complaint, you should gather all relevant information related to the incident of harassment. This includes specific facts about the incident, any relevant records or documentation, the name and contact information of the person who harassed you, and the names and contact information of any witnesses to the incident.

Your complaint should include a clear and detailed account of the harassment you experienced, providing as much relevant information as possible to help the DFEH understand the situation fully.

The DFEH complaint system allows you to file complaints not only about workplace harassment but also other forms of workplace discrimination. If you have experienced discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, you can include these in your complaint as well.

Once your complaint is submitted, the DFEH will initiate an investigation into the matter. They will review the evidence, conduct interviews with witnesses, and assess whether there is a violation of California’s fair employment laws. Importantly, filing a complaint with the DFEH is confidential, and your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you for making a complaint.

While you can file a complaint with the DFEH without legal representation, you may wish to consider seeking advice from an employment lawyer who can guide you through the process and ensure that your rights are protected.

Reporting workplace harassment to the government is an important step in seeking justice and holding those responsible for the harassment accountable. The DFEH plays a crucial role in investigating complaints and enforcing California’s fair employment laws to ensure that workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment. By filing a complaint, you contribute to promoting a safer and more respectful work environment not only for yourself but also for others facing similar challenges.

What are the remedies available to victims of workplace harassment?

If you have been a victim of workplace harassment, it is essential to know that you have several remedies available to seek justice and recover from the harm you have endured. These remedies aim to compensate you for the damages caused by the harassment and to hold the responsible parties accountable. The following are the potential remedies that you could be entitled to as a victim of workplace harassment:

  1. Hiring: If the harassment resulted in the loss of your job, you may be entitled to reinstatement or, in cases where that is not feasible, compensation for the loss of future employment opportunities.
  1. Front Pay: Front pay is the compensation awarded for lost wages and benefits that you might have received had the harassment not occurred, while the matter is being resolved or if reinstatement is not possible.
  1. Back Pay: Back pay refers to the compensation for wages and benefits you lost due to the harassment from the date of the harm until the resolution of the case.
  1. Job Reinstatement: In some cases, the court or agency handling the complaint may order your employer to reinstate you to your previous position or a comparable one after the harassment is addressed.
  1. Job Promotion: If the harassment negatively impacted your chances of promotion, you might be entitled to promotion as a remedy.
  1. Out-of-Pocket Expenses: You can seek reimbursement for any financial losses you incurred as a result of the harassment, such as medical expenses or other costs related to the incident.
  1. Policy Changes: As part of the remedy, the employer may be required to implement changes in policies or procedures to prevent future incidents of harassment.
  1. Training: The employer might be ordered to provide anti-harassment training to all employees to create a more respectful and inclusive work environment.
  1. Reasonable Accommodations: If the harassment resulted from a failure to provide reasonable accommodations, the employer may be required to implement the necessary accommodations.
  1. Damages for Emotional Distress: You may be entitled to compensation for the emotional distress and suffering caused by the harassment.
  1. Punitive Damages: In cases of particularly egregious conduct, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the harassing party and deter future misconduct.
  1. Attorney’s Fees and Costs: If you prevail in your harassment case, you may be entitled to recover your attorney’s fees and other costs associated with pursuing the claim.
  1. Witness Fees: If witnesses were required to testify on your behalf during the proceedings, their fees may also be part of the remedies.

Navigating the legal process of obtaining these remedies can be complex and challenging, especially during a stressful time. Consulting with an experienced workplace harassment attorney is crucial to understanding your rights, building a strong case, and maximizing the available remedies to seek appropriate compensation and relief.

Your attorney will advocate on your behalf, represent you in negotiations, and guide you through the process of seeking justice for the harm you have experienced. By working with an experienced lawyer, you can better protect your interests and move forward with confidence in pursuit of a fair resolution. You, as well as every employee in California, have the right to a workplace free from harassment, and these remedies are designed to help restore your dignity and well-being after experiencing such mistreatment.

Who can file a workplace harassment claim?

In California, the laws against harassment extend protection to a broad range of individuals beyond traditional, paid employees. If you have experienced workplace harassment, you have the right to file a harassment complaint regardless of your employment status or documentation. The following individuals are covered by the anti-harassment laws and can file a complaint:

  1. Employees: Paid employees who work for an employer, whether full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal, are protected under the laws against workplace harassment. If you are an employee and have experienced harassment, you can file a complaint to seek redress.
  1. Job Applicants: Harassment during the hiring process or job interviews is also prohibited. If you faced harassment while applying for a job, you have the right to file a complaint.
  1. Unpaid Interns: Interns, even if they are not receiving monetary compensation, are considered protected individuals under the anti-harassment laws. If you are an unpaid intern and have experienced harassment in the workplace, you can file a complaint to address the issue.
  1. Volunteers: If you are providing your services as a volunteer in an organization or workplace, you are entitled to protection against harassment. Volunteers who experience harassment have the right to file a complaint to seek resolution.
  1. Individuals under Contract: The laws against harassment also cover individuals who are providing services pursuant to a contract by an employee. This means that independent contractors or individuals hired through a contract arrangement are protected from harassment in the workplace.
  1. Undocumented Workers: Importantly, undocumented workers are not excluded from the protection of anti-harassment laws in California. Regardless of your immigration status, you have the right to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) if you have experienced workplace harassment.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) takes all complaints seriously and investigates allegations of workplace harassment, regardless of the complainant’s employment status or documentation. The agency is dedicated to ensuring that every individual has access to protections against harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

If you have experienced workplace harassment and are uncertain about your eligibility to file a complaint, remember that the laws are inclusive and extend to various categories of individuals. Of course, do not hesitate to seek legal advice or directly file a complaint with the DFEH if you have faced harassment in your workplace. Your rights deserve to be protected, and you have the right to seek justice and resolution, regardless of your employment status or documentation.

Can you only file a complaint with the DFEH?

In addition to filing a harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), you also have the option to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC protects employees from harassment and discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, and genetic information.

There is an important relationship between the DFEH and the EEOC when it comes to handling harassment complaints. If you file a complaint with either agency, and they determine that there may be a potential violation of federal or state harassment laws, they will automatically cross-file your complaint with the other agency. This process is known as “dual filing.”

If you file a harassment complaint with the DFEH, and they find that your complaint raises issues covered by federal harassment laws, they will file your complaint with the EEOC on your behalf. Similarly, if you choose to file your complaint directly with the EEOC, they will automatically file it with the DFEH if the issues raised also fall under California’s fair employment laws.

Dual filing is designed to ensure that victims of harassment have access to the appropriate legal protections at both the state and federal levels. It streamlines the process for complainants and enables them to pursue remedies under both state and federal laws without having to file separate complaints with each agency.

When filing a harassment complaint with the EEOC, it is essential to be aware of the applicable deadlines. Under federal law, you generally have 180 days from the date of the alleged harassment to file a complaint with the EEOC. However, if your state has its own fair employment agency (like the DFEH), the deadline is extended to 300 days if you choose to file with the EEOC, thanks to the dual filing arrangement.

Filing with the EEOC involves submitting a written complaint that includes relevant details about the harassment, the parties involved, and the nature of the discrimination or harassment. Once the complaint is filed, the EEOC will conduct an investigation, and if they find evidence of discrimination or harassment, they may attempt to mediate a resolution or pursue legal action against the employer on your behalf.

In summary, you have the right to file a harassment complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in addition to filing with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The dual filing system ensures that your complaint is considered at both the state and federal levels, providing you with comprehensive legal protections and access to remedies under both California and federal law. If you choose to file a complaint, it’s essential to do so within the applicable timeframes to protect your rights effectively.

How long do you have to file a workplace harassment complaint?

If you have experienced workplace harassment, it is crucial to be aware of the time limits within which you must file a complaint with the appropriate agency. In California, the time limits for filing harassment complaints vary depending on the agency involved and the circumstances of the harassment. The following are the key timeframes to consider:

  1. Filing with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH):
    • In general, you have three years from the date of the harassment to file a complaint with the DFEH.

    • If the harassment occurred while you were a minor (before you turned 18), you have two options:

      • Three years from the date of the harassment.
      • One year from your 18th birthday, whichever is later.
  1. Filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
    • If you choose to file a complaint with the EEOC, you have 180 days from the date of the harassment to submit your complaint.

It is essential to understand the significance of these time limits. Failing to file a harassment complaint within the specified timeframe can result in the loss of your ability to pursue legal action against the harasser or employer. The time limits are intended to encourage timely reporting of harassment and to facilitate prompt investigations and resolutions.

For complaints filed with the DFEH, the timeframes typically start from the date of the last incident of harassment. However, for individuals who were minors at the time of the harassment, the clock does not start ticking until they turn 18, providing them with a reasonable opportunity to assert their rights once they reach adulthood.

If you believe you have been subjected to workplace harassment, it is essential to act promptly. The longer you wait to file a complaint, the more challenging it may be to gather evidence and support your case effectively. Keep in mind that gathering relevant information, documentation, and witnesses can take time, so taking early action is in your best interest.

If you are uncertain about the applicable time limit or the appropriate agency to file your complaint, consider seeking advice from an experienced employment lawyer. They can help you understand your rights, navigate the process, and ensure that you meet all necessary deadlines to protect your interests and seek justice for the harassment you have experienced. Remember, time is of the essence, so do not delay in taking action against workplace harassment.

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