Witnesses Can Be Key in California Workplace Harassment Cases

Civil claims based on California employment law can be difficult to prove, particularly when they involve a case of alleged harassment, which often boils down to “he-said-she-said.” But whether we’re talking about harassment, wrongful termination or retaliation, plaintiffs will generally bear the proof burden. This is why for so many cases, witness statements prove critical.workplace harassment

One of the reasons witnesses are so essential is that they are, if not wholly unbiased, at least gaining less from the lawsuit than either of the involved parties. This is important in jury trials and even settlement negotiations, when it’s unclear who really has the stronger case.

For instance, plaintiff could argue that he was fired for making safety violations and that the performance-related reasons the company gave for the termination were nothing more than pretext. However, absent some solid proof, your Los Angeles employment attorney is going to need more than your word alone to prove this.

Similarly a restaurant manager’s sexual harassment of a young female waitress may be difficult to prove on her word alone. However, if co-workers attest to seeing it, that helps to substantially bolster the case.

Witnesses who do not stand to gain anything from the proceedings are the most valuable. In fact, if there is a possibility that testifying on your behalf could lead to more troubles for them, that could actually prove more helpful in your employment litigation lawsuit.

Report Finds Witnesses Critical to Workplace Discrimination Lawsuits, Though Testimony Not Infallible

Recently, a research team at Spot, a tech company that allows anonymous workplace harassment reporting, recently released a report that highlighted workplace discrimination and harassment, noting that neither companies nor workers can afford to overlook witnesses in these cases.

The analysis, taken from more than 1,000 surveys of workplace discrimination and harassment claims in the U.S. and internationally, indicated that more than 60 percent of those reports involved having cited one or more witnesses to the alleged harassment or discrimination. Study authors were especially interested in identifying barriers to reporting.

One of the first things researchers gleaned from this was that, No. 1, this was not discrimination that was solely taking place behind closed doors. Secondly, many people are witnessing workplace harassment and discrimination, yet not reporting it to higher-ups within the company, though they may tell someone else (i.e., family member, friend, another colleague, etc.). Those individuals who reported being witnesses to workplace discrimination and harassment claims reported feeling adversely affected or “put into a tight spot.” That is indicative of the fact that these types of incidents aren’t merely affecting those involved. They are hurting those around them.

Another thing all this tell us is that discrimination does not just impact those who are directly experiencing it. The ripple effects are felt by everyone in the vicinity. As the lead researchers explained it, harassment has the potential to “infect the whole company culture.” Not only can it spread, but it can lower morale among those who are at risk of victimization or who simply recognize the wrong and are uncomfortable with the way it persists in the workplace.

Barriers to Reporting Workplace Harassment

Much of the time, when workplace harassment was not reported, it was because they weren’t sure how that process was supposed to work. One-fifth said they didn’t know how to report such incidents. 1 in 10 said the process to report was too complicated. Roughly 5 percent said they didn’t have time to go through the entire process.

Other prime barriers to reporting workplace harassment included:

  • Worrying of potential consequences to them personally – 34 percent
  • Didn’t want to “seem like a snitch” – 18 percent

When respondents were asked about means of improving workplace harassment reporting, 80 percent said they would be interested in automated reporting.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Witnessing workplace harassment and discrimination: Overcoming the ‘social contagion’ of toxic work culture, Spot Research Team