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Is it safe to report sexual harassment in a small business?

In the shadows of the #MeToo movement, more employees are coming forward and speaking out about incidents of sexual harassment. But, for some victims, it isn’t as easy to speak out about what’s been going on behind closed doors – especially as a small business employee.

At your job, the human resources department, team trainer, supervisor and payroll manager may all be one person. You may have some fears about what would happen if you file a report, and you’re not alone. Many employees from companies big and small are scared to file complaints.

Why are employees hesitant to file reports? Are your own fears legitimate?

Big or small, employees hesitate to report for the same reasons

One employee at Comcast is calling for a massive overhaul of the company’s sexual harassment reporting policies. The employee claims that she was sexually harassed on multiple occasions, sometimes even in front of her supervisor who told her she was being “too sensitive” and to get over it. This made her feel as if her complaint wouldn’t be taken seriously. When she did report it, the claim was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Many victims of workplace harassment say that they have heard similar comments from their bosses after speaking up. Employees such as the one at Comcast also fear that reporting will create a hostile working environment, including being retaliated against, or even cost them their jobs.

Federal law protects small business employees

Whether you have 15 or 50 other co-workers, your employer is required to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA) prevents employers from discriminating against persons of a protected class. Your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your race, religion, sex, color, age, disability, national origin or genetic information. If you have exhausted your options to resolve the matter with your employer, you have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

That brings us back to the question -- are the fears legitimate? Sadly, they can be. But it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone. Both state and federal laws are on your side and will take your claims seriously. You have a right to feel safe and respected at work and you don’t have to fight for your rights on your own.

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