Reporting Harassment or Discrimination at Work

Title graphic reporting harassment

If you are experiencing harassment or discrimination at work, please remember that:

You have a right to a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.

Your employer has a responsibility to provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.

This page has information about:

You’re encouraged to seek legal guidance as you navigate this process. Remember: you have the right to report attempted or actual assault to the police, as well as your employer, at any time.

Tips when you’re facing harassment and discrimination at your workplace

Document the problem

It is important for you to document as much as you can about the harassment or other discrimination. The evidence you collect might help to support your claims.

  • Write down the details of everything that happens as soon as you can, recording your memory of exactly what took place. Include times, dates, locations, and any witnesses.
  • Start a file where you can write notes and store other evidence. Keep the file in a safe place, away from work. Record this documentation either in hand-written form or digitally in a file that is not housed on a company computer. If you email yourself the documentation, use a personal, non-work, email address to both send it and receive it.
  • Write down the details about any conversations you may have with coworkers or supervisors about the harassment or other discrimination.
  • Include information about any formal complaints you have made and the response that you received from your supervisor.
  • Get a copy of your personnel record, including your performance evaluations, before you make a complaint. Keep a copy in your file.
Keep track of witnesses and find other victims

It’s very helpful to have at least one witness who can testify on your behalf.

OPTIONAL: Consider confronting the harasser IF YOU FEEL SAFE DOING SO

ONLY when possible and safe for you to do so, consider confronting workplace behavior that you feel is problematic, offensive, discriminatory, and/or predatory, whether it was directed at you or not. When determining the appropriateness of this strategy, consider the severity of the behavior, your relationship with the harasser, whether this is a repeated behavior or an isolated incident, and whether you were the only person who saw the behavior of if there were other witnesses.

If you decide to confront a harasser, let them know that the behavior is unwelcome and that you want it to stop. Although you are not required by law to confront your harasser, in some cases it may help to end the harassment. If you decide to confront your harasser, follow these tips:

  • Ask someone else to be present, such as a trusted coworker or supervisor
  • Remain calm
  • Practice out loud what you are going to say
  • Describe the behavior you don’t like and ask that it stop. Focus on the conduct, statement, or image that was problematic and how it made you feel.
  • Hold the harasser accountable for their actions
  • Make it clear that all people have the right to be free from harassment
  • Stick to your own agenda and don’t respond to the harasser’s excuses
  • Be serious, straightforward, and to the point

If you choose not to confront the harasser in person, you could write a letter or email. In the note, describe the behavior that you don’t like and ask the person to stop. Include a detailed description of what happened and when it happened. Be sure to date and keep a copy of your letter and make a note of how it was delivered.

Reporting harassment or discrimination to your employer

Sexual harassment

All employers in Vermont are required to have a policy against sexual harassment. This policy must include the procedure for filing a complaint with the appropriate enforcement agencies and directions for contacting them.

In addition, all employers with more than five employees must also include a description of the procedure for filing an internal complaint of sexual harassment, with the names and contact information of the people who take complaints.

If the person you’re required to report to is actually the perpetrator, you have the right to make the report to his or her supervisor instead. If you’re not sure who to report to, you can make a complaint to any supervisor or the head of the company, and they will have the legal responsibility to act in a timely matter and to stop the harassment.

Make your complaint in writing. Include all the details; try not to leave anything out. Keep a copy of your written complaint in your records.

Your employer’s process may or may not include an in-person meeting to discuss your complaint. If you want a meeting immediately to discuss your complaint, you should make that request clear.

If the company takes action to end the sexual harassment but you still don’t feel safe, or if the harassment continues, complain again. If the company fails to respond adequately to your complaint, you have the option of contacting a private lawyer or filing a complaint with a state or federal enforcement agency that can investigate your complaint.

All other harassment and discrimination

If you’re experiencing any other kind of harassment or discrimination, you should also report it to your employer.

You can report it to your supervisor, the head of the human resources department, or someone else who has the power to stop it. Your company may have its own policies for how to report harassment, and if so, you should follow them to the fullest extent possible.

Make your complaint in writing. Include all the details; try not to leave anything out. Keep a copy of your written complaint in your records.

If the company takes action to end the problem but you still don’t feel safe, or if the behavior continues, complain again. If the company fails to respond adequately to your complaint, you have the option of contacting a private lawyer or filing a complaint with a state or federal enforcement agency that can investigate your complaint.

How to file a complaint with a public enforcement agency and what to expect

You have the right to file a civil complaint with a federal or state law enforcement agency or to hire a lawyer to help you at any time, whether or not you have reported internally to your employer (although reporting to your employer may be helpful to prevent their defense that they did not know about the harassment). You can also file a criminal complaint with the police if criminal acts such as stalking or assault have been committed.

Filing a complaint with the Vermont Attorney General's Office, Civil Rights Unit

If you work for any employer other than a state agency, under state law, you can file a complaint directly with the Civil Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office. They can also provide you with information regarding the laws around sexual harassment and discrimination. You are strongly encouraged to file a complaint within 300 days of the last incident you are complaining about. Federal law claims require that you do so within 300 days and Vermont law claims require you do so within one year.

By phone: (888) 745-9195 (toll-free in VT) or (802) 828-3657

By email: ago.civilrights@vermont.gov

Through an online form: https://ago.vermont.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Employment-Discrimination-Complaint-Form.pdf

Please note that it is not possible to save this form in progress. We recommend you review the entire complaint form first to verify you have all the information you need.  Next, type out the answers to the essay questions in a separate word processing program, and then cut and paste the replies into the form when you are ready.

What to expect

After you file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, an investigator will review your claim and gather more information from you, if necessary.  If the staff determines there is sufficient information for a violation of the law, it will write a charge, or a summary of the events that occurred. You will be asked to review the charge, make changes if necessary, sign it under oath, and return it to the Attorney General's Office.

Your employer will not be notified of the claim until after you have signed and returned the charge to the Attorney General's Office and signed authorization form.  You will be assigned an investigator, who will look into the circumstances of your charge and interview witnesses, request and review documents, and will keep you apprised of developments in your case.

As you await the completion of this process, continue to document and report any ongoing harassment or retaliation to the entity handling your complaint.  Full investigation of claims can take anywhere from a couple of months to two years, depending on the circumstances.

Resolution

Once the Attorney General’s Office initiates an investigation, there are several opportunities for resolution, including mediation. If the Attorney General's Office finds sufficient evidence that your employer violated the law, it will attempt to offer various opportunities for settlement and resolution. If settlement efforts are unsuccessful, the Attorney General's office can bring suit in state court. If you and the Attorney General win your case, the court can award you back and future pay, damages, attorney’s fees, reinstatement to your job, and require employment policy changes.

Confidentiality

Each party has the right to the information they’ve provided to the Attorney General’s Office, but not to the information provided by the other party unless both parties agree in writing, or if there is a court order requiring the information to be disclosed. Information submitted in the course of an investigation is not considered public information. However, if a court case is filed, the case becomes public record, and anyone can request a copy of what’s been filed with the court.

Filing a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission

If you are a state employee, you can file your complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC). The HRC conducts impartial investigations of discrimination complaints and provides information and training on civil rights laws. You are strongly encouraged to file a complaint within 300 days of the last incident you are complaining about. Federal law claims require that you do so within 300 days and Vermont law claims require you do so within one year.

By phone: 800-416-2010 (toll-free in VT) or 802-828-2480

By email: human.rights@vermont.gov

Through an online form: https://ago.vermont.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Employment-Discrimination-Complaint-Form.pdf

Please note that it is not possible to save this form in progress. We recommend you review the entire complaint form first to verify you have all the information you need.  Next, type out the answers to the essay questions in a separate word processing program, and then cut and paste the replies into the form when you are ready.

What to expect

After you file a complaint, they will review it and ask you questions. The executive director of the HRC decides whether they will investigate the complaint. If you file a complaint, you can withdraw it at any time. Typically, it takes between six and nine months to investigate a claim.

If a settlement cannot be reached, at the end of an investigation, a report is written which includes a preliminary recommendation to the Human Rights Commissioners about whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that discrimination occurred. The investigative report is sent to the commissioners of the HRC who make a final determination as to whether or not discrimination took place.

Resolution

If the commission finds reasonable grounds that discrimination occurred, the executive director has a six-month window to try and help the parties reach a settlement. If settlement fails, the HRC may bring a lawsuit in the public interest.

Confidentiality

During a HRC investigation, each party has the right to the information in the case file provided by the opposing party. However, this information is not open to the public. If commissioners make a finding of discrimination, the investigative report and final determination (vote of each commissioner) is made public. The investigative file remains confidential unless a court order allows access.

Filing a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If you work for an employer with 15 or more employees, you can choose to file a federal complaint, called a charge, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office in Boston, rather than with the Attorney General’s Office. Under federal law, you must file a complaint within 300 days from the date of the last incident you wish to complain about.

By phone: (800) 669-4000

Through their online portal: https://www.eeoc.gov//employees/charge.cfm

What to expect

After you file a complaint about an employer, the EEOC will notify the organization and the EEOC will investigate. Investigations can take a long time, more than a year in most cases. If the EEOC finds there is no evidence that you have been harassed, it will notify both you and your employer, and it will no longer pursue your complaint.

Resolution

If the EEOC finds evidence that you were harassed, it will attempt to work out an agreement with you and your employer or will sue your employer on your behalf. Regardless of whether the EEOC finds evidence that federal law was violated, it can also send you a “right to sue” letter so you and your lawyer can file a private lawsuit, either at the end of its investigation, or earlier at your request. If you or the EEOC win your case, the court order can award you back pay and future pay damages, order reinstatement to your job, and require employment policy changes.

Confidentiality

Information you provide to the EEOC before a charge is filed will be kept confidential. Once a charge is filed, information about your complaint will be shared with your employer. Charge information is kept confidential from and is not disclosed to the public. If a lawsuit is filed, court documents will become public record and anyone can request a copy.