According to an International Bar Association study, one in three female lawyers has been sexually harassed at work – but about 60% of them, another study reveals, are too afraid to report it.
And that’s just the female lawyers—about 7.4% of male lawyers say they’ve also been subjected to sexual harassment.
Even in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, many lawyers fear they’ll suffer by reporting harassment; they worry they’ll be judged if word spreads or that they’ll get taken off important cases as punishment. These fears are not unfounded; it’s a sad fact that for far too long, many law firms have considered themselves above the law when it comes to harassment.
While the climate seems to be changing, sexual harassment continues to be an issue across most professions, and the law is no exception. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment at your firm, there are some things to keep in mind as you consider how to file a report.
Play by The Rules
Sexual harassment is illegal no matter where you work, but different firms will have their own procedures in place for reporting harassment. Your firm should have a written sexual harassment policy that’s easily accessible by any employee at any time, and it should include a formal procedure for making a complaint. Make sure you’re familiar with your firm’s overall policy and understand exactly how to file a complaint before you tell anyone about what you’re experiencing. Stick to the rules as they’re written.
Resist the Urge to Talk About it with Coworkers
No matter how frustrated, angry, or upset you might be, resist the urge to get chatty with coworkers about what’s going on. Confide in friends and family outside of the workplace if you so choose, but tell only the representatives specified in your firm’s policy at work. This is the best way to avoid becoming the subject of gossip or affecting how others—who don’t have all the information and can easily fill in the blanks with their imaginations—view you. Enduring and reporting harassment is difficult enough; dealing with being the subject of gossip adds another layer.
Think about advice you’d give a client and follow it yourself. Keep detailed records of everything–from instances of perceived harassment and who might have witnessed them, to the dates you formally filed complaints or met with firm representatives. Keep copies or screenshots of any relevant communication from the harasser. Make sure you back up all your documentation and store it in a safe place outside of your office. If you live in a one-party consent state, you might consider whether you can secretly record the harasser on your phone.
Remember Your Rights
Retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal–but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It’s not hard to find stories about lawyers whose careers have been stymied because they reported harassment by a senior colleague. While this shouldn’t happen to you, you have recourse if it does.