How to Deal With Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Photo by Katie Tenboer 

Photo by Katie Tenboer 

By Wim Dodson


High-profile conferences, legal suits in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and new books about “bro-culture” have highlighted pervasive and systematic sexual harassment across industries and countries.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment in the workplace “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

Additionally, if managers have denied someone raises or promotions because subordinates did not respond to unwanted advances, victims can claim sexual harassment. More extreme claims  may include employees unreasonably intimidating or offending staff to the point that it interferes with work. Many people, however, once they’ve suffered some form of sexual harassment, do not know what to do.

Here are some suggestions on how to respond if placed in the position of receiving unwanted attentions:*

  • Know that it is harassment if the conduct is not welcomed. When a person's actions towards you makes you feel uncomfortable, then voice your disapproval by telling them the instances that cause you discomfort.

  • Find someone you can trust and tell them about your situation. When you keep such occasions to yourself, incidents may fester into traumas. Telling your story to a reliable person will ally you with an objective observer in the workplace. The associate can also stand as your witness if you decide to raise a formal complaint. An ideal situation would be to find someone who is in a higher position in the office, so the perpetrator doesn’t feel confident they can intimidate both of you.

  • Speak to your human resource department. Get a written response from the department about harassment policies at work. Sometimes, unfortunately, HR can be part of the problem in organizations.  Larger organizations may even have specific units set up to address these kinds of issues.

  • It is considered as harassment if it's persistent or it happens more than a few times. One rule in defining a sexual harassment case, except for rape or attempted rape, involves conduct committed several times. However, you will need substantial evidence to back up your claim. If your co-worker sends you with emails and text messages that contain sexual connotations, make sure that you save all of these records. If you are certain that they will say something inappropriate to you once near your work space, prepare your mobile phone to record what they are going to say. Keep a log with dates and times and detail incidents.

  • File a formal complaint. If the harassment doesn't stop when you request it to, and you are sure that these acts are not going to cease anytime soon, launch a formal complaint. Create a letter detailing all the co-worker's conduct. Cite the dates and time the incidents took place. A professional letter is a more effective way to lodge the complaint; organizations or individuals may distort oral complaints to suit their needs.

  • Take further action. It’s easy to feel discouraged after you’ve lodged your complaint and Management did not take any action. When this occurs, it would be best to seek help from national organizations which advocate victims’ rights.

  • Know that your employers have the obligation to protect you from discrimination and harassment. Certain laws such as the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 2010 legislation of the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Bill state that employers should provide a safe working environment that is free from harassment. Additionally, the 2010 Bill also states that employers can prevent sexual harassment by clearly indicating that the conduct will not be tolerated and can result in dismissal.

  • Be familiar with laws concerning sexual harassment. Most people fear retaliation or being fired from work once they file a workplace misconduct complaint. However, you should be aware that organizations or individuals that retaliate against a sexual harassment complaint is actually an additional ground for a lawsuit. You can also file for a claim with the help of a Human Rights Lawyer when your employer dismisses you from work or when you are requested to take a leave of absence without pay.

Sexual harassment is serious business. As more instances come to light through social media, victims will find it easier than in the past to regain their personal power and dignity.

*The points are not meant as legal advice. Confer with an attorney on legal courses of action, as appropriate.