How do I File a Sexual Harassment Complaint?

Florence J. Tipton

Filing a sexual harassment complaint is typically based on where the harassing incident occurred. If you need to file a workplace sexual harassment complaint, you may want to review the grievance procedures typically found in the employee handbook. A school sexual harassment complaint will also follow formal grievance procedures. Recording details of the incident soon after it occurs may help to keep pertinent information fresh. Based on where you live, you might also have the option to file a complaint with a local government agency or court system.

It's essential that all employees feel that workplace sexual harassment claims will be dealt with fairly, promptly, and without retribution.
It's essential that all employees feel that workplace sexual harassment claims will be dealt with fairly, promptly, and without retribution.

A formal sexual harassment complaint usually includes the pertinent details surrounding the sexual harassment incident. The complaint should include the date, time, and location of the incident. You might also need to include the name of the person that you are accusing of sexual harassment. In filing a sexual harassment incident, you should make every attempt to provide specific facts about what happened. Adding statements beyond the facts could be perceived as false or speculative.

Most employee handbooks outline the procedures for filing a complaint if the sexual harassment incident occurred on the job. Typically, the first report is made to your supervisor — if he or she is not the source of the complaint. Company policy might require that you file the initial complaint with the human resources department even if your immediate supervisor is not directly involved.

Academic institutions could have several departments charged with handling a sexual harassment complaint based on your status as a student or employee. Some institutions may have a central contact in a campus relations or dean’s office for students to file a formal complaint. Faculty and staff might report sexual harassment complaints to the department head or to the human resources department.

The process may vary by jurisdiction, but you may want to file a sexual harassment compliant with a local or regional government agency. Usually, this option is available as an additional recourse if your employer or academic institution fails to remedy the situation. The procedure to file a sexual harassment complaint with a government agency may require the same information that was included in the complaint with your employer or school. Additional information may also include the steps that you took before contacting the agency.

In some cases, the procedure in the company policy or government agency does not resolve the matter. If this occurs, you may have the option to file a sexual harassment lawsuit with the court system. An experienced attorney will typically present the facts of your case in court. The information in the legal complaint is usually expected to align with the legal definition in your area that constitutes sexual harassment.

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Discussion Comments


I was called in as a witness to a sexual harassment complaint. I had seen the behavior and heard what the co-worker said that triggered the complaint. It was so completely inappropriate.

You have to go through channels. My co-worker who filed the complaint went right by the book, and our (then) rat fink supervisor did everything he could to block it. Jerk. But she went through all the procedures just like she was supposed to.

My supervisor tried to act like I must not have heard the comment correctly, but I did. I heard it word for word. The harasser was fired and the supervisor was transferred to an all-male department.


Document everything. Sexual harassment is most often a pattern of behavior, and it may culminate in some kind of physical attempt. If a co-worker does something that's not overtly sexual, but makes you feel uncomfortable, document it. You may never write anything else down, but if the situation escalates, and talking with a supervisor doesn't help, then being able to show a pattern of behavior may make your case better than anything else could.

I have known people who had to file complaints and it's always an intensely uncomfortable, emotional process. But the behavior cannot be allowed to continue, and this may be the only way to stop it.

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