Everything You Need To Know About Foreclosure Law

« Back to Home

Four Things You Need To Do When The Culture Of Sexual Harassment Is Coming From The Top Of The Company

Posted on

Sterling Jewelers, the parent company behind such big-name jewelry stores as Jared's, Kay's, and others, has been the focus of some really ugly news lately. Hundreds of former employees allege that they were sexually harassed by some of the top-level employees of the company. The corporate environment was so bad that nearly 70,000 current and former female employees have joined the gender discrimination lawsuit, claiming they were subjected to open harassment, treated like meat by "scouting parties" sent out to find attractive sales reps, and subjected to mandatory company retreats which were ill-disguised "sex-fests." The company said an internal investigation found the allegations unsubstantiated.

What does this sort of case teach employees about how to handle the situation when the harassment and discrimination are coming from the top of the company on down?

1. Realize you may face retaliation instead of help. 

The reality is that the HR department works for the company, and if the company culture is bad enough and the sexual harassment goes high enough, HR isn't going to be much help. You could even be retaliated against for reporting your boss, especially if your boss happens to be a highly-placed executive within the firm. 

You still can't skip the HR department -- most likely, it's written into your contract that you have to approach HR first. You also need to document that you gave the company a chance to fix the situation before you filed a lawsuit. You simply have to be prepared that there is a possibility that you'll be accused of something and fired or simply "reorganized" out of a job. The good news is that retaliation is a separate lawsuit in its own right, so you may be able to add that to your case.

2. You need to keep good records.

Do not go storming into HR with your complaints until you've gathered up every scrap of evidence that you were a good employee and didn't deserve to be fired -- just in case it happens. You want to make sure you have all your documentation copied and out of your desk, just in case you aren't allowed back to it. Include any emails commending you on your work, former appraisals or performance reviews, accommodations, employee of the month certificates, and so on.

You also want to document ever instance of abuse or harassment you witnessed or experienced. Who was there? Who said what? Where did it happen? Were witnesses present? This can help your attorney know who to subpoena down the line.

3. Put your complaint in writing.

Again, keep a copy and put it someplace other than your work computer. Your written complaint might otherwise be accidentally "lost" and unable to be located if you give your only copy to HR. 

Insist that any response to your complaint be put in writing as well. You don't want there to be any question about what you were actually told. If HR refuses to respond to you in writing, make sure you follow up with your own written letter, detailing what was said to you, the understanding you were given, and the fact that you asked for a written response and were denied one -- making it necessary for you to provide your own follow-up letter.

4. Consider contacting an attorney early on.

Considering that over 700,000 female employees say that Sterling was essentially a boy's club that bartered job security and promotions for sexual favors, and Sterling has characterized the whole thing as an act by "a very small number of individuals" who just wanted to make the company look bad, you should realize that you can be up against some tough odds if your company's problem runs deep -- which means that you may want to consult with an attorney, like one from Law Offices Of Timothy O'Brien, even before you take your case to HR. An employment attorney can help you figure out the best way to proceed, what evidence to gather, and when to consider taking your case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).