How to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a very uncomfortable topic, but it’s important that you understand your rights. You have the right to be free of discrimination - and that includes sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment encompasses any unwanted behavior (physical, verbal, or visual) that is of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex that offends you or creates a hostile work environment. The conduct can be either severe and/or pervasive but does not have to be both. One-time incidents can be considered sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is not limited to the employee-employer relationship. The legal definition applies to any employment-related situation; e.g., job interviews, offsite work events, and work-related social media usage. The definition also extends to volunteer work and unpaid internships.
Why You Should Report Sexual Harassment
It is against the law. If a boss, supervisor, coworker, or customer has sexually harassed you, they have broken the law. You need to report their behavior to protect yourself and others.
Many people do not report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation, but retaliating or punishing someone for making a sexual harassment complaint, or participating in the investigation process, is also illegal.
Before You Report Sexual Harassment
If you have been offended, tell the person that his or her behavior is unacceptable. If the harassment persists, you should again tell your harasser to stop, but put it in writing and keep a record of the communication.
If you have been sexually harassed, you should keep a record of the incident(s). Keep note of where and when it occurred, as well as any potential witnesses. If there are witnesses, you should ask them to write down their account of what happened. Keep these records safe and secure.
You should also review your employer’s sexual harassment policy. Most employers have a policy included in an employee manual, or you can ask someone in human resources. Following the expectations outlined in the policy will help demonstrate that you did your part to report and stop the harassment.
Reporting Sexual Harassment
The first step is to tell your supervisor, manager, or your human resources department. If you are a unionized employee, you can also contact your union representative. It is their obligation to investigate all complaints.
If your employer does not investigate your complaint or resolve the sexual harassment, you can pursue it in federal or state court through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
You may also have the option to press criminal charges if the harassment involved a sexual act against your will or consent. That is considered sexual assault, and you should contact the police.
Regardless of how you plan to report it, do not delay. The sooner you report it, the sooner authorities can investigate and resolve the issue. There are also legal deadlines that differ between states that you need to be aware of.
Sexual harassment is unacceptable and your employer has an obligation to protect you. Everyone has a right to a safe and discrimination-free workplace. Even if you have not experienced sexual harassment yourself, you should report it if you see it occurring to protect yourself and others.