We all wish that workplace harassment wasn’t a thing and that this article didn’t need to written. But it does, because it exists, and millions of workers on all levels deal with it in its various forms.
When workplace harassment happens to you, (And unless you are very lucky, it is a when – not an if) you need to be prepared on how to deal with it straight away.
What Constitutes Harassment in the Workplace?
Harassment isn’t always as cut and dry. There are multiple types of harassment that can happen to you, so know what you should look out for.
Sexual harassment is the most common reported by women, along with sexual quid pro quo favors. Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as any action that is sexual in nature, and unwanted.
That can be an inappropriate comment about your body, a touch, an action, or even photos being shared. Sexual quid pro quo is the offering from a coworker or superior to do favors in exchange for sexual acts. “You do X, I will get you that promotion”.
Personal harassment is also common, which is a form of bullying and often includes actual legal protection if it turns to religion, race, or gender topics. Offensive jokes, overly critical or unneeded remarks, and personal humiliation all count.
Physical harassment is less common in a white-collar setting but happens in blue-collar workplaces a lot, often normalized. Threats of violence, destruction of personal or work belongings, or attempts to intimidate all count.
Where Do I Go?
So, you feel that you are being harassed at work. There are a few very important steps you need to take in order to quickly and immediately stop the harassment, and get back to your job.
Write Everything Down
If your harassment is taking place over email or text message, your reaction at first might be to delete it so you don’t have to look at it anymore. This isn’t a good choice, and do not do it!
Save everything damning that is happening to you, and if it a verbal or in person situation, write down down dates, times, and events as soon as you can to keep the information fresh. The more proof you have to back it up, the less of a he-said, she-said situation it becomes.
Is this happening in person? Over lunch, at your desk with others, near the watercooler? Find out who you can talk to that has your back, and write their name down with your notes.
When you go to file a complaint, ask that person if they will talk about what they witnessed. Having someone else back you up can really make a difference in these situations.
Talk To Your Manager. Unless…
If you feel comfortable, talk to your manager about the situation and get their advice. Often times managers are not aware of what is happening with their employees in the day to day aspects, so they might not be seeing the harassment you are experiencing.
If your harasser is a favorite of your manager, a golden child in the company, or even your manager themselves, going to them to report it is probably a bad idea for your career. Instead, look at who else you can talk to.
HR is the obvious solution and is often the first-choice in larger companies. Find out who the HR representative for your department is and sit down with them in a closed-door meeting to talk about your options. Bring all the evidence you have gathered with you, so you can present the facts.
When All Else Fails
If you don’t have an HR department, your manager is being unhelpful, or you simply don’t trust the company to properly handle the situation, consider filing with the EEOC, or federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
That will get the matter investigated in a very real way, and it is the first step if you feel that suing your employer for discrimination or harassment is going to be needed.
Harassment happens. If it happens to you, be smart, gather allies and resources, and handle it. It doesn’t have to ruin your workplace, your career, or your life.