It’s important to prepare for your first appointment with a workplace harassment lawyer. Harassment cases involve a detailed legal and factual analysis. In order to evaluate your claim and provide accurate legal advice, the lawyer must have a lot of information. You can help streamline the interview process by compiling this data in advance.
While every lawyer has his or her own interview process, this is a list of common questions. Additionally, different states and cities have different employment laws. Depending on where you live and the issues involved in your case, these questions may vary.
Why Were You Harassed?
Many workplace harassment claims involve discrimination. There are many forms of employment discrimination. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on:
- Race and ethnicity,
- Sex and gender (including sexual orientation),
- National origin, and
- Disability or genetic predisposition.
It also is illegal to harass someone who is a whistleblower or cooperating with an investigation or other legal proceeding. And, some states and cities have their own anti-discrimination and civil rights laws. Once the lawyer understands your claim, he or she can tailor a legal strategy to meet your needs.
Who Harassed You at Work?
Depending on who harassed you, different rules may apply. If a supervisor was the harasser, the company typically is liable for his or her behavior. However, if the harasser was a co-worker, customer, or contractor, a different level of proof is needed. In cases involving a co-worker, you must show that your employer:
- Knew or should have known about the harassment, and
- Did not take appropriate measures to stop the harassment.
If you have emails, letters, or other evidence concerning the harassment and your employer’s response, bring it with you to the appointment.
Can You Describe the Harassing Behaviors?
The lawyer must understand how severe your workplace harassment was. There are two primary types of workplace harassment:
Typically, a single offensive comment or harassing behavior will not be enough to show a hostile work environment (unless the single act was very dramatic). Instead, you must show that a reasonable person would have found the behaviors to be pervasive, hostile, and intimidating. If a reasonable person would not have been upset by the alleged harassment, you cannot win your claim.
Importantly, if you have any evidence of harassment or hostile behavior, bring it with you to your appointment. This information will help the lawyer understand the scope and severity of the harassment.
When Did the Harassment Occur?
Most harassment cases have strict filing deadlines. Depending on your claim, you may have to file charges with an administrative agency (such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC) before you can file a lawsuit. If you do not follow the correct procedure, your lawsuit may be automatically dismissed.
Did You Report the Harassment to Your Employer?
It can be difficult to win a harassment claim if you did not report the offensive behavior to your employer, especially if the harasser was a co-worker or customer. In order to win a case involving co-worker harassment, you must show that your employer knew (or should have known) about the offensive behavior. If you have correspondence documenting your complaints, bring it with you to the appointment.
Do You Have a Right to Sue Letter?
In order to file a federal employment discrimination lawsuit, you typically must have a “Right to Sue” letter. Federal law sets out a very specific administrative complaint process for discrimination claims. First, you must file a complaint (or charge) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate your claim and may agree to file a lawsuit on your behalf. (Unless your federal claim involves a violation of the Equal Pay Act, you cannot immediately file a lawsuit against your employer.)
However, the EEOC does not prosecute most discrimination claims—including many legitimate ones. In most cases, it will send you a Right to Sue letter. This letter allows you to file a federal case against your employer. The lawyer will want to know where you are in the claims process. His or her strategy and advice will differ, depending on where you are in the charge and litigation process.
What Damage Did You Suffer Because of the Workplace Harassment?
Your employment lawyer will need to understand how you were financially impacted. In a workplace harassment claim, you may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages include lost wages, job search costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Punitive damages are used to punish an employer for willful harassment. To help your lawyer calculate your damages, bring check stubs and other evidence of your harassment-related expenses.
What Should I Bring to a Meeting with a Workplace Harassment Lawyer?
It is important to bring any evidence you have to your first appointment. This may include:
- Employee handbook and personnel records,
- Correspondence between you and your employer (or the offending co-worker or supervisor),
- Check stubs or W-2 forms,
- Receipts or other evidence of out-of-pocket expenses related to the harassment.
This information will help the lawyer evaluate and understand your workplace harassment claim.
Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer is an important decision. For many workers, workplace harassment claims are too complicated to handle alone. An employment lawyer can help you understand your rights, file a timely EEOC claim (if necessary), and file a lawsuit against your employer.