Given the highly competitive nature of the job market these days, it may come as no surprise to many that most workers spend more time at work than they do at home. When so much time is being spent in the office, colleagues become like family and it is expected that the work environment is a collegial and supportive one. Unfortunately, not everyone works in a friendly workspace—many employees face sexual harassment and discrimination while working, making them feel unsafe in the very place they spend the majority of their time in.
Also unfortunate is the fact that employees unknowingly sign away or restrict their ability to pursue legal recourse against unwanted and illegal workplace harassment and discrimination in their employment contract. California’s recent law limiting arbitration in the workplace have tried to strengthen workplace protections in favor of employees and draw attention to provisions employees should be focusing on.
Many employment contracts stipulated that employees waive their right to a trial for potential labor disputes as a precursor to employment. In order to keep their jobs, employees effectively ended up signing away the right to pursue legal remedies against sexual harassment in the workplace. While arbitration is an effective tool to resolve disputes if both parties agree to it, in this situation it had become a tool to keep employees silent about harassment they were facing and allowing it to continue in the workplace.
Additionally, many employees may not even be aware that there is a time limit in which a civil lawsuit can be brought for harassment and discrimination. In fact, employees have one year to submit a complaint to the state before going to the court—if a right to sue notice is given, then they have one more year to file a lawsuit. The one year window, now extended to three years, begins when the harassment took place.
Jobs provide employees with a sense of purpose and belonging, not insecurity. Employees who are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace should know they have legal options and the right not to be retaliated against for taking those steps. Consulting an experienced attorney to discuss one’s options may be one way to clarify one’s doubts about one’s situation.