Sexual harassment has been a hot topic in the media for the last couple of years, really coming front and center with the notoriety of some of the more victims (and perpetrators). The fact that harassment occurs in the workplace (even with celebrities) has brought the subject major attention across the country and beyond. What had been a taboo subject that had been swept under rugs and whispered about in break rooms is being openly described in public letters and Twitter rants.
And from what recent history has taught us – no one is immune.
So What IS Harassment?
Harassment can mean a number of things, so how should we describe it in the workplace? According to Jennifer Corso, an employment attorney with Petronzio Schneier Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, harassment is “any form of verbal or physical badgering based on sex, religion, or race”. Harassment can take on many forms, as cited in some of the following examples:
Harassment doesn’t always have to be sexual, but if any of the above behaviors are of a physical nature, and are unwanted by the recipient, they can constitute sexual harassment.
Harassment Is Not Always Black and White
Jennifer Corso goes on to explain that harassment cannot always be proven because of one inappropriate remark, or poor choices made at the holiday party. Other factors need to be proven, such as a hostile work environment. One must prove that the behavior is unwelcome, it is severe enough to impact conditions of employment, and is based on protected characteristics.
How Do You Report Harassment?
If you feel you are being harassed at work, there are some specific steps that need to taken in order to put an end to the treatment in a legal manner.
1. Check Your Company Policies and/or Employee Handbook
Most employee handbooks have a harassment section, where there may be specific protocols laid out for reporting harassment. If you don’t see any specific steps that need to be followed, you can approach your supervisor, the Human Resource representative that covers employee relations, or possibly the Corporate Counsel in larger companies. Speak with the person you feel comfortable reporting your case to, and he or she can take the matter to the appropriate company leader.
2. Document, Document, Document
The old saying goes “when in doubt, write it out”. This can’t be stressed enough in a harassment case! Write down everything you can think of, in as much detail as possible. What time was it? Exactly where did it take place? What was the context of the conversation or activity that brought about the comment or behavior? If there were other people there, or in ear shot, make sure you list those details as well. Since this may be your word against the offender’s, the more information you can provide to support your claim, the better. It may also be advisable to keep a second copy of the documentation on a thumb drive, or at home, in case you are not able to retrieve it from work for any reason.
3. Do Your Job
Harassment itself is emotional, but working in an environment where a harassment claim is taking place will amplify the level of discomfort. Be sure you are doing your job to the best of your abilities, and try not to let the distraction of an investigation or case distract you from your duties. Keep copies of your performance reviews, sales numbers, emails praising your work, or other forms of recognition available. It is not uncommon for a victim’s performance to be questioned, especially if the allegations are toward a supervisor.
4. Share Your Story
If you have heard that this isn’t the first time an offender has acted out toward another employee, ask colleagues that may have been affected as well. Harassment often has a stigma of shame, and others may not feel comfortable coming forward alone. Sharing similar experiences is both therapeutic, and further corroborates the behavior of the individual in question. Be respectful of others in question – not everyone is comfortable sharing their story at the same time, and in the same manner. If there have been witnesses to the conduct in question, ask them to make statements, if possible. Again, don’t expect complete participation from others. Not everyone is willing to be involved in a situation that is not directed at them.
5. Get the Support You Need
Any type of harassment can be demoralizing and stressful, so seek the support of family, friends, or a counselor. Talking it through and understanding how to cope with the physical or emotional scarring that harassment can create is an important step in getting through it. Surround yourself with people who will help you heal, and avoid those with negative comments and opinions. Harassment can call your character, integrity, and morals into question, so it is important to reinforce your beliefs. Coming forward can be very difficult, so you should be proud of the bravery of your actions.
Hopefully, enough of these stories will bring further awareness and a dramatic change in workplace behavior.
Natalie Lemons is the Founder and President of Resilience Group, LLC, and The Resilient Recruiter and Co-Founder of Need a New Gig. She specializes in the area of Executive Search and services a diverse group of national and international companies, focusing on mid to upper-level management searches in a variety of industries. For more articles like this, follow her blog. Resilient Recruiter is an Amazon Associate.