What does a typical HR investigation look like?
When you report sexual harassment, employers are obligated to investigate the issue in a timely manner.
Investigations vary greatly depending on the situation, and on who is conducting the investigation. Here’s a rough outline of what may occur:
- Interview the reporting employee to collect details and evidence.
- Interview the harasser to collect details and evidence.
- Interview potential witnesses, such as people on the same team or office.
- Review notes and make a recommendation to upper management.
- Decide on final resolution, such as disciplinary actions or warnings.
- Close investigation and let both parties know the outcome (separately).
HR hasn’t resolved your situation well until you are satisfied with the outcome and you feel comfortable moving forward.
Those who are not so lucky may experience the following:
- HR takes no action at all
- HR prematurely dismisses your situation without a timely and thorough investigation
- HR refuses to address or side-steps the problem
- HR turns the tables and blames you
- HR retaliates against an employee or witness for reporting or opposing the harassment
- HR sweeps it under the rug because e.g. the “perpetrator is a top performer who is too valuable to fire”
If any of the cases above sound familiar to you, you might want to consult an employment lawyer for advice on next steps.
How much evidence do I need?
In an ideal world, we would have physical evidence handy, like photos, screenshots of messages, or even recordings. However, we all know that that is not the reality. Don’t be scared or hesitant to report because you might not have enough evidence..
While it may be that it is more challenging to have action taken against a harasser without physical evidence, there are other actions you can take in the meantime. This includes gathering circumstantial evidence:
- Continue documenting every inappropriate interaction as thoroughly as possible.
- Screenshot conversations you text to your friends about your experience.
- You can also build a stronger report if another employee submits a similar report against the same harasser or a witness corroborates your report.
- Seek counseling or therapy as soon as possible. In addition to helping you through the experience, documenting mental and/or physical health assessments can further shed light on the effects of harassment.
Where can I find a good lawyer to talk to?
Please do not include any sensitive or confidential information when contacting us. Any information you share with us through this site is not protected by the attorney-client privilege. Only your direct interactions with lawyers are protected.
When should I take legal action against my company?
Take advantage of free legal consultations provided by lawyers and ask for more than one opinion (as you should for any case).
If you choose to move forward with legal action, your legal counsel will advise you through the process.
Keep in mind that the legal system has strict time limits, known as statutes of limitations, that apply to filing sexual harassment claims in court. To preserve your right to sue in court, you need to first obtain a “Notice of Right to Sue” from either the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the equivalent agency in your state, if any. In California, the agency is called the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”).
In general, to file a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law, you must contact the EEOC within 180 calendar days of the most recent sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is automatically extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency also enforces a law that prohibits sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation.
A different statute of limitations will likely apply to filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in state court. In California, you must file a charge of discrimination with the DFEH within one year from the most recent day that sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation took place.
Should I go to the press?
Sharing your story through the press is undoubtedly a powerful option. We’re very grateful for the brave women who’ve come forward and shared their stories.
With that said, there are many different factors to consider before reporting your situation to the press. Again, we recommend you take advantage of free consultations from employment lawyers to make sure that going to the press is the optimal option for your particular situation. If you have any personal contact with someone who has shared their story publicly, we would also recommend getting their input on what their experience has been like.
What if it’s my fault?
Sometimes we convince ourselves that sexual harassment is our fault, or rationalize the harasser's behavior as a way of making sense of how this happened.
Did I put myself in that situation? Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough. Maybe I should have worn something else. Maybe I’m overreacting. Did I deserve it? It’s my fault.
Stop. Sexual harassment is not your fault, period. Not now, not ever. This was an unwanted experience or attack on you. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t try to rationalize someone else's predatory behavior. And don’t listen to those who do not believe you. We believe you.
Can I remain anonymous?
If you report sexual harassment to your employer, and the sexual harassment is happening to you personally, you may not be able to remain anonymous because they need to investigate the situation further.
However, you can anonymously receive a free consultation from a lawyer, and your conversation with a lawyer will be kept confidential. If you are concerned about confidentiality - which is very common - talking with a lawyer is the place to start.