Both California and Federal employment laws offer employees a slew of protections, plus require HR departments to adhere to certain guidelines. Over the past seven-plus years, President Obama has done what all prior presidents have done, and what all future presidents will do: He has appointed people to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies that share his vision. These appointments have a trickle-down effect, because the leaders hire people who share their vision as well: to protect employees from illegal workplace harassment.
However, before aggrieved California employees go to the EEOC or DFEH to file employment discrimination or harassment claims, they often first speak to internal human resources managers in order to resolve disputes in a more low-key manner. But what are the proper ways to talk to HR about harassment at work?
Talking to HR About Workplace Harassment: Guidelines for Employees
Understand Your Workplace Rights
One of the first steps in preparing for battle is ensuring that you are properly armed. The EEOC and DFEH are both tasked with enforcing a wide variety of employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and many other laws. Together, these measures prohibit employment discrimination according to:
- Status: Title VII applies to race, national origin, gender, religion, and other statuses.
- Pregnancy: Sometimes, there is an element of paternalism in these cases. For example, an employer may remove a pregnant worker from a certain job because of exposure to certain possibly harmful chemicals. But the workers get to make the choices, and not their employers.
- Age: Generally, people over age 40 are in a protected class, and if they are denied jobs or promotions, their employers must provide a legitimate age-neutral reason for the adverse action.
- Disability: In addition to the ADA, the Family Medical Leave Act also applies here. Disability discrimination can be both direct and indirect; for example, taking action against non-disabled employees because they are caregivers of disabled non-employees violates the ADA.
Somewhat surprisingly, retaliation is the most commonly-charged violation in this area. Sexual harassment, which is a violation of Title VII, is another common infraction.
Approach HR About Workplace Harassment
An immediate supervisor is always the first point-of-contact if there is a possible discrimination or harassment issue at work.
If the immediate supervisor is the source of the discriminatory or harassing conduct, many employees prefer to either go up the chain of command or to go to human resources directly to avoid complaining to the person who is the source of the problem.
Taking the next step to complain to an HR representative about negative employer behaviors can be a tricky affair. In fact, the process can be so intimidating to some employees that many workers choose to "grin and bear it" or hope that the coworker, supervisor or boss is transferred. However, there are some ways to make this event less confrontational and improve the likelihood of a good result:
- Get Ready: Always assume that the HR representative will not be on your side. So, gather documents and organize them. It is often helpful to have specific instances of conduct and how that conduct relates to the protected category (race, age, gender, etc.), so that a third party can quickly grasp the nature and scope of your complaint.
- Stay Calm: Present your case in a matter-of-fact way, and try not to get upset if things appear to be going against you.
- It's Confidential: You do not need to tell your boss, or anyone else, that you are meeting with HR. Furthermore, human resources representatives are trained to keep the meeting low-key and private. Generally speaking, confidentiality should be maintained where possible.
If your human resources department does not favorably resolve your workplace harassment situation, or if you are dissatisfied with the results, you are free to contact an employment attorney for help in filing a discrimination and harassment complaint with either the EEOC or DFEH. Our experienced Los Angeles employment attorneys can help solve your workplace harassment case. Contact us today for a free consultation.