If you work in an office, you may expect -- and be accustomed to -- a calm, sedate, and civilized environment populated by professionals. However, these white collar workplaces are not insulated from some of the stereotypical pitfalls of rougher work, including verbal and physical abuse and even sexual harassment. What should you do if you're suffering from harassment from a superior or coworker? Are there choices available that will allow you to keep your job? Read on to learn more about your legal options.
What options are available to protect you from workplace harassment?
Your available options depend largely on whether you're a member of an office or professional union, or whether your workplace is union-free. However, in either situation you are afforded both national and province-specific protections from harassment.
- If you're a union member:
Your first step upon experiencing workplace harassment should be to report the incident to your union representative. Your representative will review your available options as they relate to your company's grievance procedure, and will act as your advocate or go-between in your interactions with management. In some cases, your union may determine that mediation or another type of alternative dispute resolution is the best way to resolve this claim and help you and your harasser co-exist in harmony. In other cases, particularly if the harassment occurred over a long period of time or was perpetrated on multiple employees, the union may require the termination of the harasser.
Perhaps most importantly, your union can help protect you from retaliation from your employer or the person responsible for your harassment. Although federal laws prohibit employers from terminating or demoting an employee after the employee has reported harassment, this practice unfortunately still takes place in non-union environments, and can only be punished after the fact. In many cases, the terminated individual elects not to sue or fight back, and the company can get away with this unethical behavior. On the other hand, a union can instead step in before a firing attempt and refuse to permit your discharge until your employer provides specific cause not relating to your harassment claim.
- If you're not a union member:
If you don't belong to a union, the correct process for reporting and stopping this behavior will vary by employer.
You may want to seek the guidance of an experienced labor or employment attorney before going too far up the chain at your employer. For example, if the harassment is being committed by a supervisor, you may be understandably reluctant to contact another supervisor to report it -- even if your workplace requires you to do so. An attorney can help review your workplace's practices and procedures to determine the best course of action. Like a union representative, your attorney serves as your advocate and voice against a potentially Goliath-sized business.
There are also specific reporting procedures your attorney may want you to follow in order to build a stronger legal case if you fear retaliation or continued harassment. Some factors that can help you prevail on an employment discrimination claim include:
- The speed with which your complaint was addressed by those to whom you reported it;
- The seriousness with which your company dealt with your complaint; and
- The amount of resources provided to allow your company to address the problem.
If your employer was slow to acknowledge your reports of harassment, had ignored prior reports against a single harasser, or failed to take remedial action after you reported a problem, your claim becomes much stronger. Without help from an attorney or union, it can be difficult to create this type of documentation on your own.
Click here for more info on the benefits of a workers union, or contact a local attorney for assistance.