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Can I Get Fired for Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Can I Get Fired for Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Under federal and California state laws it is illegal for an employer to fire one of their employees because they reported workplace sexual harassment. Even if the unwelcome behavior is not legally deemed “sexual harassment,” reporting it to an employer does not give them the right to fire you.

Sexual harassment, as defined by the State of California Department of Justice, “refers to both unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.” This includes offensive remarks or stereotyped comments about someone’s gender or sexual orientation. Isolated or “non-severe” harassment may not be recognized as “sexual harassment” but it is still worth reporting. You cannot be legally penalized for doing so. And no one should have to endure months of workplace harassment. If certain comments or gestures make you feel uncomfortable, say something. If it doesn’t stop, report it.

Obtain a copy of your employer’s sexual harassment policies and how to report incidents of harassment. I would advise you to keep a copy outside of your workplace so that you are guaranteed access to it.

Know that you do not need to go through the company’s HR in order to report a sexual harassment case. If you feel that the HR department will not be empathetic to your case or are otherwise uncomfortable about approaching the company directly, you can file a claim through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This is a state agency that protects Californians from unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Another option is to file a complaint through the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is a federal body that enforces national anti-discrimination laws.

If you feel that you are in immediate danger or are victim of sexual assault call 9-1-1 right away and report the incident to your local police.

What if I am fired?

Wrongful termination is illegal. If you are fired shortly after reporting a sexual harassment case and you have reason to believe that the two are related, then you should lawyer up and fight back.

The most difficult aspect here is proving that your termination was due to the sexual harassment report. Employers aren’t going to tell you that you’ve been terminated because of the incident even if that is the real reason. Your job is to document as much evidence as possible in order to strengthen your case.

Keep detailed accounts of every instance of harassment, all the actions you’ve taken, and what your employer has done about it. Write down the date and time. Mention what happened, who witnessed it, how others reacted, and what you felt. And keep your records on a personal email account or computer. Employers have the legal right to monitor work emails and accounts, so keep everything saved in a non-work-related location.

The goal is to be able to show a correlation between termination your taking action (asking the harasser to stop, reporting a complaint, talking to HR, etc.).

Being fired is also not the only form of retaliation. Other illegal forms of employer retaliation include:

  • Demotion

  • Denied promotion

  • Threats to report your immigration status to Homeland Security or ICE

  • Reduced compensation

  • Loss of some benefits

  • Reassignment/Transfer with significantly different responsibilities

  • Suspensions

  • Denied flex time

  • Poor job references/evaluations

  • Spreading of false rumors about you

The subtler the retaliation, the harder it can be to prove. If you suspect it’s happening to you, reach out to an attorney for help. An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you on next steps and champion your case in court.

What if I want to quit?

Whether or not you leave the company is your personal decision. Just be aware that the laws governing sexual harassment cases are more ambiguous should you decide to leave. Your departure (if caused by an unsafe or hostile work environment) may also be recognized as “wrongful termination,” but it may not.

Filing a sexual harassment claim after quitting reduces your leverage in the case. Additionally, proving you left because of an unsafe or hostile work environment is not easy. You will need to provide evidence showing that you’ve made a reasonable effort to address the harassment and your employer failed to help you. Before quitting, we strongly recommend contacting a lawyer for more information. They’ll be able to advise you on what to do before quitting in order to maintain a strong legal case.

Barsoum Law is here to support you and protect you from wrongful termination. We offer a personal focus and individualized care that large corporate firms do not. And our multilingual, multicultural team is dedicated to making sure you obtain the compensation you deserve.

Subjecting an employee or colleague to sexual harassment and then firing that person for reporting the incident is both immoral and illegal. If you have suffered from workplace sexual harassment, Barsoum Law can and will help. We have represented thousands of employees throughout California the past 25 years. Contact us today at 877-299-1555 or to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.

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