Can an employer in Washington be held liable for sexual harassment if they don’t investigate a harassment complaint?

If sexual harassment occurs in a workplace and an employer has been made aware of the incident, they put themselves at risk of being held liable if they do nothing to address it. In fact, the Washington State Office of the Attorney General says that employers are required to do the following:

  • Establish procedures for employees to follow to report sexual harassment.
  • “Thoroughly and promptly” investigate any sexual harassment complaints that are received.
  • Take “prompt and effective” action to avoid any additional incidents of sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace.


Examples of When an Employer Could be Held Liable for Harassment that Occurs in Their Workplace


Example 1

After an employee was sexually harassed by their manager, they brought their concerns to the attention of their employer who brushed them off and did nothing to address the matter.


Example 2

After being sexually harassed by a co-worker, an employee decided to file a complaint with their supervisor. The supervisor listened to the complaint but instead of conducting an investigation to determine whether the claims were valid, he promoted the harasser and did nothing to prevent the behavior from continuing.


Example 3

After an employee reported a sexual harassment incident to their human resources (HR) department, nothing was done to resolve the problem. No investigation was made, and the harasser continued to display inappropriate behavior, creating an offensive work environment.

When an employer in Washington State does nothing to address a sexual harassment complaint or allows their work environment to become offensive or hostile, a complaint can be filed against them with any of the following agencies:


  1. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office. Complaints can either be filed with the Human Rights Commission or the Attorney General’s Consumer Resource Center.
  2. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). When reporting sexual harassment to the EEOC, an individual will need to file what is called a Charge of Discrimination. Because sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination, the agency accepts complaints in this form.


In addition to reporting an employer to one of the agencies listed above, an employee can also contact a Washington sexual harassment lawyer to find out the other ways they can exercise their legal rights. For instance, if the harassment has caused an employee to suffer psychologically or they have had to cut back on work hours or quit just to avoid being harassed, they may have a valid reason for filing a civil lawsuit against their employer.

A civil lawsuit is not a criminal lawsuit, but instead, serves as a way for a sexual harassment victim to seek financial relief from their employer for the harm they have caused them. If an employee would like to find out if they have the grounds to sue their employer and for how much, USAttorneys.com would be happy to help them locate a sexual harassment attorney in their city. USAttorneys.com works closely with some of the top lawyers in the State of Washington and can help a victim of harassment connect with an attorney in any city, including Seattle, Spokane, or Tacoma.

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