How to Deal with Sexual Harassment at Work: Advice and Support You Need to Know

how to deal with sexual harassment at work

In 2015, the EEOC received over 28,000 harassment reports. Of those, almost half were related to sexual harassment.

Given that at least 75 percent of sexual harassment at work goes unreported, that puts an estimated 50,000 instances of workplace harassment happening in 2015.

Sexual harassment at work is an ugly reality of the modern American workplace. If it’s happening to you, knowing what to do can be terrifying. If you’re trying to figure out how to deal with sexual harassment at work, here are some facts that you need to know.

You Are Not Alone

The first thing you should know if you are experiencing sexual harassment at work is that you are not alone. Upwards of 25 percent of women deal with workplace harassment, according to some estimates. The #MeToo hashtag, which refers to those who have experienced sexual harassment, has been tweeted over 1.7 million times worldwide.

Sexual harassment can be embarrassing, isolating, and scary, and doubly so at work. It may feel like you are standing along against someone who has the power to retaliate if you report, or against a company that just doesn’t care. But millions of people worldwide are standing in your same shoes – and chances are, so is someone else at your workplace.

It Is Not Your Fault

Guilt is another feeling commonly associated with sexual harassment. Many victims feel like they provoked the harassment somehow. They may even feel guilty for not reporting the harassment.

No matter how the harassment occurred, whether you reported it or not, or what the other circumstances were, you should know that sexual harassment is never your fault. Harassers will often try to twist the situation to make the victim seem to blame – common excuses include “I know s/he wanted it,” or “Well, s/he shouldn’t have been wearing that!”

Remember, the harasser is solely responsible for their actions, and the victim is never to blame.

Write Everything Down

If you are being harassed, it is important that you keep a careful record of the harassment for when you get ready to report it. This can mean writing down inappropriate or threatening comments, making a note of any bystanders or witnesses that may have seen or heard exchanges, and/or saving any inappropriate photos that you may have been sent. Keep a record of the date on which the harassment occurred, as well as the time if possible.

If you expect the report might wind up in legal proceedings, there are a few extra precautions you’ll want to take. First of all, save all the information on a home computer rather than a work machine. And be sure to write “in consideration of litigation” at the top of your notes so the defense can’t access them as part of a lawsuit (and visit this site if you are looking for a lawyer).

Talk to a Confidante

If possible, find someone you are comfortable with at work and confide in them about the trouble you’ve been having.

First of all, this can be extremely validating, as you’ll be able to hear confirmed that the behavior isn’t appropriate and should be stopped. But having a confidante can also be helpful in a report or lawsuit.

Having someone who can vouch for your character and who can verify your testimony can add a lot of weight to your side of the story. If the person you talk to has witnessed any of the harassment, that can be crucial in an investigation as well. And you may be surprised – perhaps this person has experienced the same sort of harassment as you have.

Bring the Issue to a Supervisor

Oftentimes, a good first step in reporting sexual harassment at work is to talk to your supervisor. For one thing, they may have the power to make the harassment stop. If they don’t, they will be able to take the complaint to the proper authorities.

For another thing, once you report sexual harassment to a supervisor, they are legally and ethically required to handle the issue. An employee or a confidante is not obligated to report workplace harassment. But supervisors must either take steps to prevent the harassment from continuing or move the report up the chain of command.

Talk to Human Resources

In some cases, you may not be able to report the harassment to your supervisor. Maybe your harasser is close enough to your supervisor that you worry your story won’t be believed, or maybe your harasser is your supervisor. In either case, the next step is to report to human resources.

Ninety percent of human resources departments have specific policies dealing with sexual harassment at work. In the post-Weinstein environment, many companies are being vigilant about making sure sexual harassment reports are handled quickly and effectively. They may also be able to handle the process while making sure you remain anonymous.

Report to the EEOC

If you don’t have a human resources department at your job, if someone in upper-level management is harassing you, or if you don’t know who else to turn to, you can always report harassment to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. National law under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. You have a right as a citizen to work in peace, free of workplace harassment.

The first step you’ll want to take in reporting sexual harassment to the EEOC is filing a Charge of Discrimination. This is a formal document stating that your employer has discriminated against you, and it is a crucial step if any lawsuits are going to happen later. You may also want to check if your state has a Fair Employment Practice Agency, and file with them if they do.

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