How to Prove Harassment in the Workplace
Recent stories in the news have underscored what many of us have known for a long time: harassment is pervasive in the workplace.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons it is so pervasive is that it is so hard to prove. Proof can be extremely important in such cases for many reasons. It can make it harder for harassers to deny their behavior and avoid consequences. It can also make it harder for a business to simply ignore the behavior or cover it up. Finally, and most importantly, proof allows you to more successfully pursue a case against your harasser, and your employer, should you need to.
For all these reasons, it is crucial that you understand not only what harassment entails, but how you can prove it. That is the only way you can be assured the behavior will stop and the harassers will be properly punished.
What Does Harassment Entail?
Before discussing proof, we must first discuss what, exactly, constitutes harassment, so you know if the behavior you are experiencing meets the standards set by the law. Knowing this allows you to pursue proof with more clarity and certainty than you might otherwise.
In order for behavior to meet the standards of harassment, it must:
- Involve discrimination against a protected class of people. Harassment must in some way infringe on your rights as a protected class. That means the behavior must involve in some way your race, sex, religion, age, disability, or other protected characteristic
- Involve offensive conduct. Offensive conduct can take many different forms, including the use of ethnic slurs or racist jokes, the demand for sexual favors, or the mimicking of an individual with a disability for the purposes of ridicule.
- Include unwelcome behavior. In order for the offensive behavior to count as harassment, it must be unwelcome. For instance, pursuing a sexual relationship with a willing co-worker is not illegal, nor is humor that all parties find amusing and inoffensive.
- Involve some level of severity or pervasiveness that affects your ability to work. Very often, a single joke or the request for a romantic encounter will not be considered harassment by the courts (although there are exceptions). Instead, the behavior must be proven to be severe enough or pervasive enough (involving many incidents) that the behavior affected an individual’s work. This can mean either that explicit demands were made (sexual favors for promotion, for instance) or simply a feeling that your job could be affected (regular racist jokes that suggest a person of color is not welcome at work and may lose their job).
All of the above conditions must be met in order for a harassment claim to move forward in the courts.
How to Prove Harassment
Meeting the above standards can be incredibly difficult. To begin with, it can be hard to gather concrete evidence of harassment, since it often happens without warning and is over in an instant — at least for the moment.
At the same time, there are so many ways harassers can deny that their behavior meets the above-mentioned standards. They can, for instance, claim the conduct only occurred once and was not meant maliciously. A boss may suggest that a claim of sexual harassment is misplaced, suggesting that a sexual overture was merely a joke, and that they apologized when the employee took offense. They could also claim they never put the individual’s job at risk, thus making it harder for the victim to prove harassment occurred at a level that meets the required standards.
In order to prove workplace harassment, then, the victim of that harassment must pursue their case with extreme care and dedication. The best way to prove you have been harassed in the workplace is to gather proof in all the following ways:
- Establish a timeline
- Gather evidence
- Find witnesses
To establish a timeline, you should start by recording every instance of harassment right after it happened. Write them down in a single place, and be as thorough as possible. Information should include the date and time and as much detail as possible about the encounter.
As more and more instances are recorded in this way, you can show that there has been a pattern of behavior over an extended period.
You can further corroborate this information by sharing it with others whom you trust, after the harassment occurs. Talk to friends or even work associates you can trust. You might also consider contacting your HR department or federal and state employment agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), after each incident.
Evidence can come in many different forms. If you live in a one-party recording state (in which you don’t need another person’s consent to record them), you can attempt to record comments made by your harasser on your phone as they happen. No matter where you live, you can save any voicemails or emails in which harassment occurs.
Take pictures of any drawings or writing that is offensive and gather any items that have been used to humiliate or otherwise harass you.
Finally, look for allies in your workplace. It is likely that some of your fellow employees have noticed the harassment against you, and some of them may be sympathetic. Some may even have been victims of harassment themselves. If you can confirm the harassment through their testimony, you will have a much stronger case.
Get Assistance from Experienced Harassment Lawyers
It is not always possible to provide extensive proof of your harassment. A careful harasser may avoid putting anything in writing, or behaving badly in front of others. Your fellow workers may refuse to stand up for you and testify against a boss or coworker. In the end, you may only have your own timeline and your own word against your harasser.
Even when you have significant evidence, harassment cases can be very difficult and require experienced and careful legal work to succeed. If you have experienced workplace harassment, you need to contact The Melton Law Firm immediately at (512) 330-0017. Even when no one else believes you, we do, and we will use our extensive experience and legal skills to fight for you against your harasser. You don’t have to let your harassment continue a moment longer. Let us help prepare your harassment case today.