Legal Rights Working With a Harassing Co-Worker

The law protects women from workplace harassment.

The law protects women from workplace harassment.

Women do not have tolerate harassment from co-workers such as unwelcomed flirting, or any unfair treatment based on gender. Employers can land in hot water for turning a blind eye to sexual harassment, or harassment based on gender. A woman should start by reporting a co-worker's harassment to human resources. If that doesn't stop the bad behavior, a woman can file a complaint with a state or federal employment agency, and if all else fails, a trip to a lawyer's office may be in order.

Workplace Policies

Many employers have formal policies in place for dealing with workplace harassment. Women should follow their employers' reporting policies, because ignoring them may forfeit certain rights to sue. Employers generally follow up on all harassment complaints through interviews with alleged victims, perpetrators, and witnesses. An employer usually seizes the chance to stop harassment by promptly disciplining offending parties. A harasser may be warned, suspended, or outright fired, depending on the seriousness of his behavior.

EEOC Complaints

You can who file a complaint about a harassing co-worker with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The deadline for filing an EEOC complaint ranges from 180 to 300 days from the time of the harassment. The EEOC takes complaints in-person at local field offices, by mail, phone, and online. The EEOC wields a big stick against employers who tolerate workplace harassment. It can recover back pay, obtain money damages, or get a victim's lost job reinstated as remedies for harassment.

State Complaints

State laws allow women to file complaints for sexual or gender-based harassment with state equal employment agencies. Some states provide extra protections for women in addition to federal laws. For example, the EEOC only takes complaints against employers with 15 or more employees. However, states such as California hear harassment complaints no matter how many workers a company employs. State laws also can require employers to take extra steps, such as informing women in writing of their rights against harassment.

Private Lawsuits

Women can also lawyer-up to fight workplace harassment. Federal and state laws allow private lawsuits to recoup money damages and to reinstate jobs and wages lost because of sexual or gender-based harassment. Federal law generally requires women give the EEOC a chance to deal with employment harassment before filing civil cases. State rules vary, so women should check their state laws to determine if they need to file state complaints before slapping their employers with lawsuits.

 

About the Author

Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images