One of the most common questions asked of an employment law attorney is, “When and how do I report sexual harassment to my HR?” Reporting to your employer’s human resources (HR) department can be an important step in protecting your rights as an employee, but there are often obstacles — you’re nervous, you’re worried that nothing will be done, or you fear that your job will be made more difficult after reporting. However, to fully protect your rights, reporting to HR is a vital first step.
You Have the Right to Feel Safe at Work
Under the Utah Antidiscrimination Act, which applies to companies employing 15 or more employees, employers must provide an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment. Discrimination and harassment are defined as mistreatment based on age, gender, race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and sexual orientation. If you believe that you have been harassed or discriminated against because you belong to one or more of the protected groups listed above, the first step you should take is to report the incident(s) to HR.
The Importance of Filing an HR Report
Reporting to HR is essential because it creates a record of the incident, allows HR to investigate, and should trigger additional protections for you as an employee. When you report an incident to HR, a written record is created and added to your employment file noting that an incident occurred which made you uncomfortable and that you believe was inappropriate in the workplace.
When you make a report, it is important to ensure that this written record is, in fact, created to document the report. This is your opportunity to describe what happened, when it happened, and how it affected you personally. In the event that your employer does not respond to your report, the written record of the incident can be used later as evidence that your employer was put on notice regarding inappropriate behavior in the workplace and that nothing changed. Thus, if you reported to HR once and that behavior continues, keep reporting the issue, even if it feels repetitive.
In addition to creating a record that can be used later, if needed, reporting workplace misconduct allows HR and your employer to investigate the situation and take appropriate action. Often, the company is unaware of a specific employee’s inappropriate behavior and, therefore, cannot enforce policies and procedures to keep the workplace safe.
What Happens After I File a Report with HR?
Reporting inappropriate workplace behaviors will often trigger an investigation. Part of the investigation will likely include HR speaking directly with all parties involved, including you as the reporter. This is a normal step in the process but, understandably, may cause you to be nervous or worried. After speaking with HR, if you have any concerns about the conversation or want to keep a record of the verbal conversation, simply send a follow-up email summarizing the conversation to HR.
Why Don’t Some Employees Report Misconduct?
A common reason individuals choose not to report harassment to HR or delay reporting an incident is that they may have a significant fear of retaliation: They may fear that reporting will make their work life worse instead of better or that they may lose their job as a result.
The truth is, reporting misconduct gives you an added layer of protection as an employee. Under the Utah Antidiscrimination Act, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for reporting any unlawful employment behavior or for participating in a proceeding or investigation related to the report.
Retaliation includes any adverse action taken by the company toward the employee, such as:
- Cuts in pay;
- Cuts in hours; and
- Employment termination
If you have been retaliated against for reporting inappropriate behavior, Utah law allows you to hold that employer responsible.
Protect Your and Your Coworkers’ Rights
If you witness or are victim to any discriminatory or harassing behavior exhibited in the workplace, report it to HR as soon as possible. This will ensure that the events will be fresh in your mind, helping you create a more thorough report to be submitted to HR and kept in record. It will also allow HR to investigate the incident in a timely manner and, hopefully, prevent prolonged exposure to the inappropriate workplace environment. The law [JS1] exists to ensure that your rights as an employee are not violated, to hold employers accountable, and so that you and your coworkers have a safe working environment.
To speak to an attorney, contact Pearson Butler online today. All initial consultations are free and confidential.