October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Every October, the nation is reminded of the pervasiveness of domestic violence as well as other forms of sexual assault and harassment. Together, we remember the victims and honor the survivors.
When it comes to domestic violence, the law provides a number of protections. For example, crimes of domestic violence fall under both state and federal laws. State restraining order laws can help protect domestic violence survivors from further abuse and impose penalties on those who violate a restraining order.
One of the questions we often face is what legal protections exist for those who experience sexual violence or harassment by another employee while at work.
The same laws that govern domestic violence may not apply, and most survivors never file a formal complaint or report the abuse to their employer. Many individuals fear that reporting workplace sexual misconduct will lead to more abuse or retaliation such as being fired.
So what legal options do you have if you or a loved one is experiencing workplace sexual harassment or assault? If the conduct involved rape or sexual assault, report the matter to the police as this type of workplace violence is illegal under criminal law.
Even if the conduct does not violate a criminal law, you may have civil remedies. Depending on the size of the employer, the sexual assault or harassment may also violate state and federal civil rights laws. However, many state and federal civil rights laws have strict reporting deadlines.
For example, before you can file a federal lawsuit against your employer and abuser, you must report the act within 180 days (or six months) to the federal agency that enforces federal civil rights laws. Because of these deadlines, if you want to take legal action against your employer, it is important to promptly reach out to an attorney who specializes in employment law.
We hope this information is helpful to you or a loved one, and above all, know that you have allies working to prevent and punish domestic violence and workplace sexual assault and harassment. At WWGR, we will provide a safe and confidential space for you to share your experiences and consider your legal options. Please do not hesitate to contact our office with any questions or concerns. We are here to help.