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Does My Immediate Reaction to Harassment Matter If I Later File a Complaint?

reaction to harassmentAre you concerned that your immediate reaction to harassment could hinder your ability to file a complaint later?

Don’t be.

Many people find themselves in situations in which they had a neutral or positive reaction to someone saying or doing something offensive. It’s a normal and natural response. Many people don’t know what to say or do when faced with an uncomfortable situation. They’re shocked or they don’t realize the impact of what happened until later after they’ve thought about the incident.

This doesn’t mean that your employer won’t use your initial reaction against you. Your employer and/or the person committing harassment will likely point out that you smiled or laughed or seemed fine with whatever happened.

It doesn’t matter. Harassment laws are based on whether or not a comment or action was legal or illegal, not how witnesses reacted.

Your Reaction Doesn’t Change the Law

Think of it this way: If you witness someone running a stop sign and have a neutral reaction, the driver still committed a crime. Nobody is going to say running a stop sign becomes legal because an onlooker laughed or said nothing.

Of course, the perpetrator and anyone responsible for dealing with harassment will claim your reaction justifies the behavior. If you file a grievance or take legal action against your employer, you should expect them to come at you with arguments about your reaction to their behavior or statements. Their lawyers know it doesn’t matter, but they’re hoping to guilt you or shame you into dropping your claims.

If you’re embarrassed about your reaction, you’re less likely to pursue your case.

The best thing you can do is to be honest with your attorney about your reaction. Tell them you’re concerned or you feel uncomfortable with how you reacted. This way, they can prepare you for how the defense will react, so you aren’t caught off-guard once your case is underway. Lying about your reaction can call your claims into question. Honesty and openness are always better, even if you wish you’d reacted differently when someone said or did something offensive.

Proving Damages Isn’t Always an Issue in Proving That Harassment Occurred at Work

It’s important to know that you can file a complaint even if you didn’t immediately react negatively to the harassment. Many people feel like they need to have some sort of “proof” that the harassment made them uncomfortable, but that’s not always the case. In addition, you won’t need to show damages to prove that harassment occurred in a workplace harassment case although you will have to show damages in order to receive compensation for the result of any harassment at work.

If you later realize that the behavior was indeed harassing, you can still take action.

If you’d like to speak to someone about your situation or you’re ready to pursue a harassment claim, we can help. For more information or to discuss your workplace rights under New York law, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation.


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