Dealing with Workplace Sexual Harassment
When someone is experiencing workplace sexual harassment, there isn’t one best way to approach the situation. Every case is different. However, there are important things to remember, as neglecting these can limit your ability to pursue legal recourse should the situation escalate to that point. Stories of sexual harassment in the workplace have been proliferating for years, although visibility for these incidents didn’t really hit mainstream media until Anita Hill’s denouncement of Clarence Thomas in the early nineties. Now, with the #metoo campaign in full swing, both men and women are sharing their stories, and more and more perpetrators are being forced to take responsibility. Should you find yourself in such a situation, taking note of the following tips can help you properly build a case for presenting to your employer, or to legal services if that becomes necessary.
This seems obvious, but the first step in dealing with sexual harassment is to demonstrate to your coworker the advance is clearly “unwanted.” If someone in your office engages with you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you must show that you do not want this attention. Sometimes, sexual harassment might feel difficult to define, but any interaction where you feel a colleague is not acting with you in a professional way, or touches you without your permission, can be considered harassment. Despite potential confusion in the moment, you need to say no clearly and as many times as necessary. If you reach the conclusion that a past event was harassment, send an email to your colleague describing the situation and explaining why the advance was not welcome. This might feel uncomfortable or cause them to become upset, but in the end, it may also be enough to cause them to correct their behavior.
Immediately after the event has occurred, write everything down. Be as specific as possible and track any dates, times, and possible witnesses. If you have any digital exchanges with this colleague that implicate them, keep those together with your statement about the event. Do not keep these records at work where they may be tampered with. Keep them at home and make digital copies.
Notify your supervisor about the event in writing. This is a crucial step so that your employer can take responsibility for the proper handling of this situation. Describe the problem in detail and address how you want it fixed. Ensure that you follow any policies in place for reporting sexual harassment to the letter and remember, although you may not think that reporting the incident will do any good, there will at least be a record that your employer was notified should they neglect to follow through. Often called the Anita Hill effect, many people in sexual harassment situations do not see a way out and often believe they must endure this behavior until they move up or transfer to another department. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, and your employer should do everything they can to remedy the situation.
Although this may be uncomfortable, it’s important to talk about the situation with coworkers. Not only might you find allies and confidantes, you could discover that other employees have suffered in similar ways by the same hands. Sharing your story can help them feel more confident to share their own and help you change your work environment for more people than just yourself.
Contact the EEOC
If you find yourself being harassed at work and are having a difficult time receiving support from your supervisor, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They’ll handle a more detailed investigation. Simply inform the EEOC of the name of your employer, the offender, and the information surrounding the incident.
The purpose of this information is to spread awareness and start a dialogue, because our community is one that favors communication and the comfort of all our members. As a peer group, we know it’s our job to take part in this national conversation to empower employers and professionals alike to keep a safe environment for all. We welcome your stories and tips in the comments below.