With the advancement of the “Me Too” and other movements that champion legal rights in the workplace, more and more people are summoning the courage to come forward when they are wronged by harassment or discrimination in the workplace. But what about the timing of your potential complaint - when should you go forward? More crucially, when is “too late”?
The recent movements have certainly helped garner a better public understanding of why a victim might be hesitant to speak up about harassment as soon as it happens. But waiting to come forward is still often a stigma, and sometimes draws skepticism and doubts to your story. Though public sentiment has begun to accept that personal reasons - marriage, family, illness - can make a victim hesitant to come forward, there are still naysayers who criticize those who wait.
In fact, the most misunderstood reason that victims delay coming forward is also the most common - the fear of retaliation. This realistic fear includes losing your job, your source of income, your credibility, and even your career. Those formidable risks can grip you into inaction for months or even years. And no one seems to understand the force of that fear until or unless they’ve lived through it. Most often, it is only when you can remove yourself from the situation that you can clearly think through your options regarding your legal rights.
But then the question becomes - when is it “too late” to move forward with your claim? The answer can be truly complex, is governed by a variety of laws, and boils down to “it depends”.
Primarily, the deadlines for filing legal claims in court or with government agencies are determined by various “statute of limitations” on state and federal books. These strict legal limitations can vary dramatically depending on the nature of your claim or claims, the state or federal court (jurisdiction) where you are bringing them, or whether they are administrative in nature (EEOC claims, OSHA claims and Labor Cabinet claims are prime examples).
In Kentucky, for instance, the statute of limitations for a sexual harassment claim can be as short as 300 days or as long as five (5) years, depending on whether you want to pursue it in state court, federal court, or through the EEOC agency. There are other considerations as well that will determine the ultimate decision on your deadline. Whether you have other claims to bring, whether you are filing with other claimants, and even the strength and value of your claim, are all factors that play a role as to when and where to file your claim. And for each separate claim you bring, each of these factors must be considered. When several potential claims are being pursued with varying statutes of limitations, the process can become quite involved.
One can see that there are clear advantages to consulting with an attorney in understanding your legal rights under the various statutes of limitations. Doing so promptly after your claim arises might prevent you from being precluded from filing your claim at all. This is true even if you feel you are not quite ready to file, as it at least allows you to know how long you have to make your decision.
If you or someone you know has experienced workplace harassment or discrimination, we encourage you to consult with an attorney immediately to determine your rights, your potential claims, and especially, to know your time limits to pursue them.
As always, our office is honored to hear your story.