When you come across the term ‘sexual harassment’, the first thing that probably pops in your mind is of a randy male employer making inappropriate sexual advances to an unwilling female employee. However, sexual harassment takes many forms, cuts across all levels of seniority in the office, and can happen to both female and male employees.
Sexual misconduct is also not always easy to spot. It is not as direct as unwelcome physical contact. Sometimes, it’s inappropriate emails, sexual jokes, or your co-worker flirtatiously calling you outside of normal work hours.
Being in such situations can be discomfiting for a lot of people and can lead to reduced productivity and even traumatize the victim. Unfortunately, most of them don’t know how they should react. Here’s what you need to do if you experience sexual harassment at work.
1. Decide Whether the Conduct Can Be Classified as Sexual Harassment
Before proceeding to make a complaint with Human Resources, you should first determine whether the actions of the possible harasser can be categorized under sexual harassment.
What is Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can include unwanted sexual advances, sexual favors, or any verbal or physical harassment in the office. For an action to be classified as sexual harassment, the victim has to be offended. It also has to be deemed offensive to a reasonable person and the harasser’s behavior needs to be pervasive.
2. Note it Down
Make sure you record the details of the sexual misconduct. This includes the date and location where the harassment happened and whether there were any witnesses. Ask the witnesses if they would be open to giving their own testimony of what actually happened.
3. Compile Your Work Records
It’s a common habit for harassers to try and defend themselves against your complaint by going after your job performance or how you go about your work in the office. To defend yourself, make sure you gather your performance reviews or any other documents with information regarding your work performance.
4. Make a Sexual Harassment Complaint to Human Resources
As soon as you feel that the behavior accorded to you is sexual harassment, proceed to make a complaint to your supervisor or with the company’s human resources department.
Usually, you’ll find the guidelines outlining how you should go about the matter in your employee handbook. Make sure you treat the matter with high urgency because the law only allows you to report the matter within 6 months of it happening.
It’s alright to report the matter verbally in person. However, it’s better to make a documented formal complaint such as a letter. The letter should include the details of what exactly happened and when, the name of the possible harasser, and whether the harassment is still ongoing.
5. Consider Hiring a Lawyer
If the company acts as they should, then you don’t need to hire a lawyer. However, in the case that they don’t or you are not satisfied with the action taken by the company, you should consider hiring a lawyer who will help you make a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Forgetting Is Hard, Remembering Is Worse
You have the right to work in a comfortable environment that allows you to do your job and progress your career. Unfortunately, unwelcome sexual behavior can make any employee’s work morale take a downturn not to mention that they also don’t feel safe. All in all, don’t hesitate to talk to someone if you feel you have been harassed.