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What happens when you report harassment at work?

Maybe you are the oldest member of your team at work, and the other employees in your department gang up on you and make rude jokes at your expense. Although you have asked them to stop, all that has happened is that they have intensified their bullying, creating group chats and spreading jokes at your expense.

Perhaps you face sexual harassment because everyone else on your team is male and you are the only woman in the department. Your coworkers may be rude or even openly hostile to you, making jokes or nasty remarks about you.

When you report sexual harassment or abuse from your coworkers based on other protected characteristics to your employer, what happens next?

Sometimes, your employer does the right thing

There are both state and federal laws dictating how companies should respond to harassment allegations. Your employer should take your complaints seriously, investigate as appropriate and protect you from a hostile work environment.

Unfortunately, that may not be what the company does. You may have a hard time getting someone to take a report about your complaint or to investigate honestly after you speak up.

How companies mismanage employee complaints

There are numerous ways that employers handle worker complaints and properly. One is through retaliation. The company may transfer the worker who reports the misconduct or find a way to fire them instead of addressing the issue with the people acting inappropriately at work.

Other times, your employer will simply fail to do anything to protect you. In fact, the supervisor or HR professional that you talk to about the issue might tell your coworkers about the complaint, resulting in an even more hostile work environment.

What protects you from employers mishandling claims?

There are federal laws that protect you from workplace harassment and employer retaliation. The company should do its best to investigate your complaints and protect you from continued misconduct by your coworkers.

When the company’s response is inadequate or when they retaliate against you instead of acting to protect you, you may need to involve regulatory agencies or consider pursuing a civil lawsuit. The cost of defending against discrimination and harassment claims may motivate your employer to finally address the employee misconduct that has made your job so miserable.

Knowing what should happen and what could happen when you speak up about workplace harassment will help you more effectively resolve your workplace complaints.