Steps to Handling Sexual Harassment at Work
It is likely that at one time or another you have watched a sexual harassment video at work or sat through a harassment prevention course sponsored by your employer.
But in the day-to-day workplace, many supervisors and employees disregard the mandate not to harass.
Last year, more than 7,500 cases of sexual harassment were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and more than $43 million in restitution was awarded to victims of harassment. Yet, the number of sexual harassment incidents continues to remain steady among U.S. employers.
Incidents of harassment can range from being barraged with inappropriate comments, photos or offensive touching to career-destroying events, such as being terminated for declining to perform sexual favors. No matter the severity of the behavior, sexual harassment can hurt both the victim and the company he or she works for. If you have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment, there are some steps to take to help stop the behavior and provide documentation should you seek legal action.
- Gather evidence of the harassment – Keep a record at home outlining each incident, including what is said or done, the date of the incident and any possible witnesses. Keep any pictures, inappropriate messages or other tangible evidence to demonstrate the harasser’s culpability.
- Maintain your work records – If a sexual favor is a condition of hiring or promotion or if you feel you will lose your job in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, be sure to keep any records of your successful job performance, such as evaluations or memos documenting the quality of your work.
- Report harassment to your employer – Meet with your supervisor and/or human resources department to discuss the matter, provide your complaint in writing, and document how you would like the problem fixed. If a reporting policy exists, follow the steps contained therein to report the harassment. If an owner or upper level executive is the one doing the harassing, contact a legal expert to discuss your potential claim and how to proceed.
- Talk with a legal expert when the harassment starts – Call an attorney who specializes in harassment cases in order to seek advice on how to proceed with your potential claim. An attorney can assist you in gathering evidence, filing with the EEOC and can provide information to you about the law’s requirements and deadlines for filing with the EEOC and in court. Sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers all companies with 15 or more employees. Also, some state laws may be implicated by sexual harassment, and these have no minimum employee requirement.
Taking the steps to end sexual harassment in the workplace is a testament to your professionalism and strength. So many victims of sexual harassment – up to 70 percent – never report the behavior to their superiors, which allows the harassment to continue and escalate. By saying no and documenting the behavior, you make clear that you won’t allow someone else’s conduct to affect your career.