“Employees are often told how to report current episodes of harassment,” says Suzy Strutner, Lifestyle Editor for Huff Post writes. “But what about the old ones?” Numerous obstacles--from the victim having left her/his place of employment and the alleged harasser no longer working there to both having taken other jobs at new companies--make filing a sexual harassment claim more complicated.
“It’s fair--and responsible--to want to warn the women or men who now work with your harasser,” Strutner writes. “Unfortunately, the system doesn’t favor someone who brings forward an older case.”
Statute of limitations pertaining to workplace sexual harassment can range from six to 10 months from when the last incident occurred, says Donna Ballman, an employment lawyer in Florida. After this time, victims likely can’t take legal action under federal law. But victims should check time limits in their state for filing such claims, says Sunu Chandy, legal director at the National Women’s Law Center.
“Some states extend the statute of limitations under certain circumstances, usually dealing with minors,” Ballman says. While victims may have no legal or financial recourse under federal law, Chandy notes it’s still worth reaching out to the current employer of their alleged harasser.
“The question is, what’s the purpose of coming forward?” she says. “If the reason is to alert other individuals to this problem, then it doesn’t matter how long has gone by. David Ring, a personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, urges victims to reach out to the alleged harasser’s current workplace.
“Get HR on the phone, and tell your story,” Ring says. “Tell them, ‘If you ever need me in the future, I’m telling you he did this to me.’ Then the employer can either do nothing or look into it.”
Compiling evidence, including emails, voice messages and texts, will help as would finding any other victims who have claims against the alleged harasser. But victims are subject to potential suits from those they accuse for defamation or for damaging their relationship with their boss.
“It’s an unfair system,” Ballman says. “It’s why we have such a culture of sexual harassment in this country. We have a system where women are disbelieved, where the victims are punished.”
But if the victim’s account is true, defamation suits won’t go very far. The harasser “can bring whatever suit they want, but if the information you’re providing is true, then that person won’t be successful,” Chandy says. “Your word is evidence, and it often comes down to credibility assessments.”
In cases where a victim is still with the same company, but the alleged harassment happened months or years ago, he/she should still report it, says Toni Jaramilla, an attorney and former chair of the California Employment Lawyers Association. So reports the LA Times.
There is a one year time limit from the last act of harassment to file a claim in California and 300 days to file with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Companies still are legally obligated to investigate no matter how long an incident took place. Even if the victim no longer works for the company, they can still send a letter informing their former employer of a current employee who could be a problem. “It’s always good to come forward, because you never know whether you helped prevent it from happening to someone else,” Jaramilla says.