If you’re dealing with discrimination or harassment at work, your understandable impulse may be to quit now and sue later. However, before you act on this difficult situation, it’s important to understand your workplace rights — and the steps you should take to protect them.
By following these steps, you may be able to improve your situation at work and stop mistreatment. If things don’t improve, you’ll have a strong foundation that will help you prove your case and exercise your right to file a harassment or discrimination lawsuit.
Florida trial lawyers of Baron, Herskowitz, and Cohen outline the steps you should take if you’re experiencing harassment or discrimination at work:
Step 1: Confront the offender
This step is difficult and unpleasant, but the first thing you should do if you’re being harassed or mistreated is to confront the person who is causing the problem. Not only is this often the best way to stop the behavior, but it’s also an important piece of proof you’ll need if the problem is not solved and you end up filing a lawsuit.
For example, in a harassment case you’ll need to be able to prove that the harassing behavior was not welcome — that you didn’t like or participate in the behavior, and you were offended or bothered. You can prove this at a later date by telling the person you don’t agree with the behavior, and if the situation doesn’t improve, write down your concerns for reference.
Step 2: File an internal complaint
If confronting the harasser doesn’t work, or if you choose not to confront the person because you fear for your safety, your next step should be to make an official complaint within your company. Find out from your HR department or employee handbook how you can file a discrimination or harassment complaint, and be sure to follow the instructions exactly. Keep a copy of your complaint for your own records.
When you file an internal complaint, you’re accomplishing two things: giving your employer the opportunity to resolve the issue and preserving your legal rights in case the problem is not resolved. The action of filing a complaint with the company prevents them from claiming that they didn’t know about the harassment or discrimination, and also gives you a stronger argument for punitive damages, which can be awarded in a discrimination case.
Step 3: File an administrative charge
Prior to filing a lawsuit for harassment or discrimination, you are legally obligated to file an administrative charge with either the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state agency that performs a similar function. The state of Florida has no state agency that enforces employment laws, so this claim would be filed with the EEOC through the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
If you file a lawsuit without filing an administrative charge, you have failed to exhaust your administrative remedies, and your lawsuit may be thrown out. After you file this charge, your employer will be notified by the EEOC, which has the options of dismissing your charge, investigating, requesting that you try to mediate or settle with your employer, or take other action. When your claim is processed, you’ll receive a letter from the EEOC issuing you the right to sue.
Bear in mind that there are short deadlines for both filing an administrative charge, and for filing a lawsuit after the charge has been processed. If you file a claim with the EEOC, it may be in your best interests to retain an experienced attorney at this point to help you prepare for the possibility of a lawsuit.
Step 4: Filing a lawsuit
Once all other avenues have been exhausted, if the issue at work is still not resolved, you can file a harassment or discrimination lawsuit against your employer. This step requires an experienced lawyer, as you will need to make important decision such as where and when to file, what to include in the lawsuit, and more.
The Miami trial lawyers at Baron, Herskowitz, and Cohen have successfully represented many clients in harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and helped them restore their lives after difficult workplace issues. Contact us today to discuss the details of your employment-related lawsuit.