There is no clear-cut right way to address sexual harassment in the workplace, but there are many strategies to consider. Far from an isolated incident, research indicates that harassment affects nearly 40% of women workers, yet less than 25% formally report it to their employer. Unfortunately, those that do report it often face retaliation from their employer.
It is important to note that women typically need to weigh their ability to pay bills and advance their career versus being treated with respect and dignity. It is a calculation that no worker should ever have to make, but millions still do.
Four steps to reporting harassment
The circumstances of each case are different, and the nuance and complexity of these issues require much further explanation, but these steps provide a general overview of the process:
- Document everything: The law and company policy may be different, but document such actions as a quid pro quo offers of a personal nature, a work environment that is hostile to women, and actions that interfere with your ability to work. Keep track of the date, time and place where it occurred (online or in-person). Share this information with a friend or coworker and make copies that are not stored at work or on a work computer.
- Assess the situation: Look at the employee handbook and determine how seriously the company takes harassment. Also look at your employment contract to determine if there is a non-disclosure agreement, which can be held over departing employees. Also, look at the team (family, influential coworkers and friends) who can provide support if the employee chooses to proceed.
- Take action: Tell the harasser to stop in clear and specific terms. It may be helpful to connect with others in similar situations to determine a pattern of behavior by the harasser. It is also time to speak with an attorney even if the employee chooses not to proceed with a suit.
- Filing a claim: It is important to follow the protocols outlined in the employee handbook. If there is no handbook, it is best to speak with the owner or manager. It is also possible to file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As the #metoo movement has proven, it can be useful to speak out publicly, but be mindful of how this affects your case.
An employment law attorney can help
A lawyer versed in sexual harassment issues in the workplace can be a tremendous asset to protecting one’s rights and dignity, particularly if there are subsequent retaliation or defamation lawsuits. Regardless of whether a women employee chooses to proceed, these legal professionals can also provide guidance tailored to the unique circumstances of the situation.