The steps to take when you encounter sexual harassment at work

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Sexual harassment is never a fun topic to discuss. Nobody wants to think about it, let alone experience it. However, sexual harassment is still prevalent in the workplace.

It’s essential to understand your (and others’ fully) rights when it comes to sexual harassment at work and to be knowledgeable of what steps to take if you are experiencing sexual harassment yourself. Here is what you should do when you experience sexual harassment in the workplace:

 

Please don’t ignore it

It’s easy to try to brush it off or hope it won’t happen again. After all, you’re worried about how complaining will affect your career or your relationship with your boss. You might even blame yourself for “saying something wrong” or “wearing something provocative.”

But sexual harassment is never your fault. It is illegal under federal law and often covered by internal company policies. Your employer has a legal obligation to protect you from harassment and ensure that you are not retaliated against for reporting it.

 

Document everything

Write down everything you can remember. Be specific about what was said or done, when it happened, and where you were at the time. What was your reaction? How did you feel? Who was there? How many times did it happen? What did other people do?

You should also keep copies of any communications related to the incident: text messages, emails, voicemails, etc. If witnesses saw or heard what happened, get their names and contact information.

 

Report the harassment to your company 

If you experience sexual harassment at work, the first step is to follow your company’s official sexual harassment complaint procedures. These are usually found in the employee handbook and on the company website.

However, if you feel that following these procedures will put you in danger or won’t be effective, you can also file a report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether there is evidence of discrimination.

If you see someone else being harassed at work, it’s important to speak up as well. You can start by reporting the behavior through your company’s reporting channels. If that doesn’t seem to be working, though, you have a few options:

  • Report the harassment directly to human resources.
  • If a union representative is assigned to your workplace, report the harassment to them.
  • Report the harassment to any managers or supervisors who aren’t involved in your company’s official complaint procedures.

 

Hire an attorney (if you experience retaliation or inaction )

If the company is not handling your allegation of sexual harassment satisfactorily (either thoroughness-wise or time-frame-wise), it’s okay to seek professional assistance from an attorney.  You can also ask friends or colleagues for recommendations. 

No one needs to suffer alone in this situation when they don’t have to. Again, getting an attorney is an excellent thing to do, especially if there is any chance of retaliation within the company. If that’s happening, again, get help from an attorney as well.

While there’s no easy way to eradicate sexual harassment, we can become more aware of the problem and what to do about it. Each circumstance is unique since we all experience sexual harassment differently based on our relationships with the parties involved, as well as other factors. 

When you encounter sexual harassment at work, it’s up to you to decide how you want to handle the situation. Do what you feel is best, but remember that it’s never too late to say something . . . even if no action was taken in the past.

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