What should I do if I believe I am the victim of harassment or discrimination at work?

Elizabeth Farrell

First, you should know that the law does not provide protection from all types of harassment or discrimination. Generally speaking, in order for you to have legal protection, the harassment or discrimination must be based upon your membership to a legally protected category. In other words, the harassing or unfair treatment must be because of your gender (includes sexual harassment and pregnancy), race, national origin, age, disability, religion, worker’s compensation/injured worker status, family medical leave time, or the fact that you have complained about illegal behavior. (Under Oregon State law, there are other protected categories as well.)

If you believe that you are being harassed or discriminated against because of your membership to a protected category, you should consult your employee manual or handbook to see what your responsibilities are. Look for anything that talks about “Equal Employment Opportunities” or what you should do if you believe you are the victim of harassment or discrimination. Most companies have policies that outline a complaint process for employees. As the employee, it is your responsibility to notify your employer, preferably in the manner outlined in the employer’s policy, of the harassment or discrimination, thus giving the employer the opportunity to investigate and correct the problem. If your employer does not have a handbook or any policies which address harassment or discrimination issues, you should complain to the human resources department, a supervisor, or anyone who has authority and with whom you feel comfortable discussing the issue.

I recommend that you complain in writing so that you have a record of your complaint and that you make clear you are complaining about “harassment” or “discrimination” based upon whatever protected category you believe. It is also a good idea to keep notes or a journal, documenting the harassment or discrimination.

Ideally, your employer will investigate and immediately rectify the situation. In the event that your employer does nothing in response to your complaint and/or if the harassment or discrimination continues and/or if you face retaliation (demotion, suspension, unfair treatment, or termination) for having made the complaint, you should contact an employment attorney immediately. Keep in mind that all legal claims have time limitations (statutes of limitation) and that if you fail to bring a claim within the particular time limitation for that claim, you will forever lose your ability to pursue the claim.