Can you be fired for reporting sexual harassment?

All too often, those who experience workplace harassment are scared to come forward because they are afraid of losing their job. Especially in cases where a manager or supervisor is the source of the sexual harassment, victims of harassment can end up deciding that the consequences of coming forward far outweigh whatever benefits may be associated with reporting (specifically, a less hostile work environment). It's important to remember that sexual harassment is against state and federal law,and you have the right to experience a harassment-free workplace.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment varies greatly from case to case. It can refer to unwanted physical contact, unsolicited sexual advances or remarks, crude jokes, or the sharing or distribution of sexually explicit materials on company time or property (or off site at work-related events such as conventions), among other issues that cause discomfort for those being harassed. It is often intentional and systematic, with other employees downplaying the severity of the issue or denying that it is harassment because it's meant to be fun.

Sexual harassment is generally defined by the person being victimized. If jokes, comments, nicknames, or materials at your workplace make you feel uncomfortable, offended, or devalued, those behaviors could very well constitute harassment. Everyone is entitled to work in a safe environment, and that includes a workplace that is free from ongoing sexual harassment.

Are people punished for reporting harassment?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for those who report workplace harassment to receive punishments that should be doled out to the harassers. Those punishments may include receiving fewer hours, less desirable shifts, or harder tasks while at work, as well as demotions, pay cuts, unwanted transfers to different job locations, and even termination. If these actions coincide with a lack of real consequences for those who were engaged in the harassing behaviors, you may be being punished simply for reporting the gross misconduct of others at the company.

While your boss or human resources department is unlikely to tell you that your treatment is a result of your harassment reporting, if it happened after your report of harassment, there's a good chance you're being penalized, with the company attempting to make it look unrelated. They may be less concerned with providing a safe work environment than they are with limiting legal liability or needing to discipline management or other staff members.

What should you do if you're penalized for reporting?

First of all, begin keeping detailed records of individual events in a personal notebook. Do not use a company notebook, a work computer, or a work-issued mobile device. Make sure every entry includes times, dates, the names of those involved, and descriptions of the behavior. If there is electronic evidence (such as an inappropriate email or text), obtain printouts and save them with your notes at your home.

At the same time, if you have been dealing with sexual harassment at work and were terminated, demoted, or transferred as a result of reporting the issue, you should seek out experienced legal advice. Take those records and details and speak with an attorney who can help you find the best way to proceed.