Recently, sexual harassment has become a big issue brought to light by the media. From famous entertainers, political representatives and even big industry leaders, sexual harassment is more common than ever.
Unfortunately, it has always been a reoccurring issue in the workplace environment.
So what is sexual harassment?
When you hear sexual harassment the first thought that comes to mind is any type of gesture or comment that’s offensive and is of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment is not just defined as unwanted sexual touching or inappropriate sexual remarks. Sexual harassment also includes discrimination against an individual’s gender or even gender preference.
For example, Susan is assigned harder tasks at work on a regular basis. John works in the same department as Susan and is always assigned easier tasks. John is given special treatment at work because of his gender. That’s considered sexual harassment.
Who enforces these laws?
The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) created a law in 1980 to protect employees and employers from sexual harassment in the workplace. This regulation defines sexual harassment and even states that it’s a form of “sex discrimination” which makes it part of the Civil Act of 1964.
The EEOC sexual harassment regulation states It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. They go on to state that sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Anytime harassment is severe enough to create an uncomfortable and hostile work environment it becomes illegal.
It is the EEOC’s job to protect employees and employers from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
What are the next steps?
Each case of sexual harassment is unique. Most companies will have their own policies and procedures set in place in the event a harassment claim is filed.
If you are unfamiliar with these reporting procedures, ask your manager or your HR representative for more information.
Below are general steps to take when sexual harassment occurs at work.
1. Speak up and express how you feel.
The first step to stop the abuse is to speak up. Let the person causing the harassment know exactly how uncomfortable they are making you feel. It’s important as the victim that you communicate with the offender about what they are doing that’s crossing the line.
Calmly approach the offender and express to them that their actions are unwelcome and not appropriate. Sometimes the person doing the harassment doesn’t even realize they’ve pushed those boundaries.
Try not to approach the person with raw emotions or anger. Having a confrontation created by frustration will only cause more issues.
If you feel uncomfortable speaking with your harasser due to what you’ve experienced have your immediate supervisor or manager step in.
2. Talk with your immediate supervisor or manager.
If for some reason your harasser has not gotten the message after your initial talk then it’s time to alert your direct manager or supervisor.
The manager will likely have you explain what has happened to make you feel sexually harassed. If it’s within your company policy you could be asked to fill out paperwork detailing your encounters.
Do not wait to report your harassment. Waiting to address the sexual harassment to your manager is a common mistake. The sooner the harassment is brought to light means the sooner the situation can be dealt with.
3. Bring the harassment to the attention of the HR department.
If nothing has changed so far, speak directly with your HR department or representative. You can safely disclose the inappropriate situations you’ve encountered with your harasser.
Make sure you have proof of your interactions that involved harassment when you meet with HR. That can be written accounts, text messages, emails, letters and any kind of paper trail that can confirm your disputes.
In addition, being able to accurately show the degree of your harassment will help your HR representative take the right course of action.
There are company complaint procedures set in place for when sexual harassment claims are set in motion. Your HR rep will be able to walk you through those steps and explain each phase in your companies procedures.
4. Don’t forget your documentation!
This part can go hand-in-hand with every step of the harassment process. Documenting every encounter with the harasser is crucial. Write down and note all incidents of sexual harassment. Make sure to include:
- Name of the offender
- Details of each encounter (what happened?)
- Words exchanged (comments and statements made by the harasser)
- Names of witnesses (who was around that can verify this exchange or situation?)
Putting This information in writing will be critical when you need to present evidence of the harassment to HR.
As well as documenting the encounters with your harasser don’t neglect to document each time you’ve met with a manager or HR rep about the harassment.
5. If you’ve exhausted your resources and are still unhappy with the outcome, contact the EEOC.
If the harassment continues and you aren’t happy with how the situation has been dealt with, you have the right to alert the EEOC. As stated above, it is their duty to protect you from sexual harassment and discrimination in the work environment.
The EEOC will conduct their own investigation once a claim is filed. They will then decide how these grievances should be handled. The EEOC can choose to:
- Close the case if they are unable to determine if the law was violated.
- Suggest mediation between you and your employer to reach an agreement or settlement.
- Send you a notice of “Right to Sue”, which gives you the right to file an official lawsuit against your company.
At the end of the day, we all have a right to a harassment-free workplace.
Nobody deserves to feel victimized or uncomfortable in their workplace environment. However, recognizing the signs of harassment and reporting them as soon as they appear will help enforce a safer workplace.
Understanding what sexual harassment is and how to handle inappropriate situations is important. Atlantic Training’s Sexual Harassment for Employees and Sexual Harassment for Managers is the first step to learning about harassment and protecting your workers from it.