There has been huge progression towards identifying and combating sexual harassment in recent years, but most people are still unprepared to handle it when it happens to them. Here are some things to keep in mind if you ever find yourself in a situation involving sexual harassment.
- Company policies regarding sexual harassment are often more specific than the federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court defines sexual harassment in the workplace as behavior that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive” and creates a hostile workplace environment. However, company policy is likely to be more specific, including things such as lewd jokes, touching, staring or asking for dates.
- If you are in an uncomfortable situation, the first step is to say something to the person making you uncomfortable. Sometimes the other person is not intending to make things uncomfortable and simply asking them to stop will work. Send them an email rather than talking in person so that there is written documentation in case you need it later.
- You are not required to tell your immediate supervisor about what is happening. Go to your human resources director. If there is no HR director, your employment handbook or its equivalent should tell you who to talk to about sexual harassment issues.
- The employers and HR have to stay objective. Once you go to them they will likely ask if you have objections to them investigating your claims further. This is in the best interest of you, the accused, and the company. If you are concerned that the investigation would be impartial, HR may be able to recommend another person in management or maybe even hire a third party investigator.
- The results of the investigation may not be what you expected. Many people fear losing their job or being forced to work in unfavorable conditions. It may be your hope to keep your job, but to work away from the person harassing you. It may be an easy fix, and the company may decide to transfer or fire the accused following the investigation.
- Consult an attorney. It’s best to have an advocate on your side, especially if you aren’t happy with the steps your company is taking regarding your complaint. Talk to an employment attorney even before filing the complaint with your employer. A lawyer can help you navigate through the process and help to fight for your right to a harassment free workplace.