How to Avoid the Victim Blame Game
The last year has been whirlwind of weekly, daily, and even hourly reporting on accusations against the who’s who in the entertainment industry and beyond. Some of the most well-known and powerful men have stepped down from their positions or been forced to resign in light of accusations of sexual misconduct. Yet, even in the face of what appears to be overwhelming evidence to support the claims, there is still a lot of victim blaming by the media and others.
A Defense Perspective
One former Fox News analyst and employment defense attorney, told Sean Hannity that it is common for woman to lie about instances of sexual harassment for money and political reasons. She further stated that for “a lot of these women, it’s all about money, and they bank on the fact that these corporations have the reputation that they want to save.” She further added that the actual number of women who were victims of predators were “very few and far between.” Although this analyst later attempted to temper those comments, she nevertheless offered a rare glimpse into how companies and their attorneys view these claims.
How Companies React to Claims
How do companies react when faced with claims of sexual harassment?
Good companies make sure that they do more than pay lip service to their harassment policies and protect the employee from further harassment. They also investigate the claims and take appropriate action for both the accused and the accuser.
However, bad companies take a different approach. They blame the victim. They blame the victim for not coming forward sooner. They blame the victim for not reporting it at all. They blame the victim for violating one or more policies by waiting to report the incident. They blame the victim for poor work performance. They blame the victim for bringing on the conduct themselves. They blame the victim for lying or embellishing.
Ways to Avoid the Victim Blame Game
Here are some possible ways of avoiding the victim blame game down the road:
First, I suggest that read over the company’s policies so that you are familiar with the policies themselves and understand the nature of the conduct that the company prohibits. Most companies have policies that closely mirror California law. There are lots of resources online that can help you identify what type of conduct is prohibited under California law. One such starting point is the website for the California Department of Industrial Relations.
Second, I suggest that you try to report the incidents as close in time to when they occur as possible. Many times, victims don’t report harassment because they feel like it will resolve itself . . . until it doesn’t. Reporting the incident(s) in proximity to when they occur will head off the argument that you only reported it only because you were being disciplined or written up for poor performance.
Third, make sure to document your reporting of the incidents in writing so that you have a record of reporting it. Written evidence is the best evidence of when you reported it and what you reported. It also can be used as evidence later on if you become a victim of retaliation after you have made a report of harassment.
Fourth, remember that Human Resources is not your friend. The Human Resources Department and the HR manager are there for one reason and one reason alone – to act as a risk manager for the company. Many times, after a lawsuit has commenced, the person that you interacted with at Human Resources is the person that is the company representative during the course of litigation. They act as the eyes and the ears of the company. So, anything said to Human Resources will be used in the defense of any litigation. Under most circumstances if there is litigation, anything said by you or anyone else to Human Resources during the course of an investigation or otherwise is discoverable and is not confidential.
Sex harassment is rampant in the workplace. Even though every company has some form of sex harassment training and policy against harassment, it is quite obvious that sex harassment still goes on regularly in virtually every type of business across the country. The challenge for companies faced with claims of sex harassment is how they deal with them. Some companies react appropriately and others play the victim blame game. Victims cannot rely on their employer to protect their interest. They need to be cognizant of the ramifications of reporting sexual harassment and protect their own interest.
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Disclaimer: The foregoing is provided for informational purposes only, is not an advertisement, does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The content may not apply to the specific facts or a particular matter. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this article without first seeking the advice of an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.