As an employee, you have rights If you feel you are being harassed at work. However, too many Iowans end up harming their harassment claims because they make critical mistakes. Below are three mistakes you should avoid if you wish to pursue a harassment claim in Iowa.
Mistake 1: Failing to report the workplace harassment to your employer.
Generally, an employer can only be held liable for harassment if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take steps to address it.
The best way to ensure your employer knows about the harassment is to report any offensive or improper conduct as soon as it occurs. Most employers have employee guidebooks or manuals that prohibit harassment and provide specific procedures for reporting incidents of harassment. If your company has a policy like that, then you should, in most instances, follow those procedures.
If your employer does not have a policy that contains a process for reporting harassment, then you should report any inappropriate or improper conduct, preferably in writing to the company’s human resources department, if it has one, or to a supervisor or other manager.
Remember: if you fail to report the harassment, your employer may be able to claim they didn’t know it was happening – and therefore they weren’t responsible for stopping it.
Mistake 2: Failing to describe the harassment in enough detail when reporting it.
Reporting harassment is not always easy. It can make you feel uneasy and put you in a difficult position, particularly if the person you are reporting is your boss or another member of management. Despite that, it is very important that you not only report the harassment, but you describe the harassment in detail in any complaint you make. Make sure to include names, dates, and witnesses to the harassment whenever you can.
Not every type of harassment has grounds for a lawsuit. Iowa and federal law protect only specific groups of people from being harassed. You could fall into one of these protected groups based on:
- Your age
- Your sex/gender identity
- Your sexual orientation
- Your race
- Your religion
- Whether you are disabled
Neither Iowa or federal law prohibit harassment or bullying if the conduct is not based on one of the classifications just mentioned.
Because an employer can only be held liable for harassment if the harassment is related to your membership in one of the protected groups, it is important you specifically state you are being harassed because of your membership in a protected group in any complaint you file.
It is not enough to simply report that someone is making “rude,” “mean,” or “inappropriate” statements, or that an employee is “bullying” you. Instead, you should report in detail what happened, including, if applicable, the exact words that were said, and say that you are being subjected to the conduct because of your membership in a protected class.
For example, if you are a woman and your boss calls you dumb, makes inappropriate sexual statements, and engages in other forms of demeaning conduct, it is not only important that you describe those statements and conduct in detail in any complaint you make, but also that you state your boss does not treat male employees in the same manner.
If you are not specific enough when you report the harassment, your employer may not be legally required to take action beyond possibly investigating the alleged harassment.
Mistake 3: Missing the deadline in Iowa for bringing a harassment lawsuit against your employer.
If you think you have a claim for harassment against your employer, there are deadlines that apply to bringing that claim. Generally speaking, you must first file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission within three hundred days of when you knew, or should have known, of the harassment. If you do not file a complaint with the ICRC within that time frame, you will jeopardize your right to file a lawsuit in state or federal court.
Pinning down the right date is important. If you get it wrong and miss the deadline, you may not be able to bring your case at all. For that reason, if you believe you are being harassed, it is important to record, in writing, each time inappropriate conduct happens. That way you will have the necessary details at your fingertips if you decide to report the harassment to your employer.
The challenge with harassment claims is that often the harassment unfolds over time. In fact, a single isolated incident alone is usually not enough to bring a claim. Figuring out exactly when that 300-day clock begins can be tricky. An experienced Iowa employment law attorney can help you determine by what date you must lodge your complaint and make sure you get your case filed in plenty of time.
If you would like a free, no-obligation case evaluation from one of our Iowa workplace harassment attorneys, contact RSH Legal today at 1-319-774-1783.