Over the past few weeks, it’s become obvious that practically every woman who is in the workforce can think of incidents of sexual harassment that she has experienced. According to a recent article that appeared at Bustle.com, many women don’t know what to do when placed in such situations. Knowing just how to handle sexual harassment on the job may or may not be the first, best solution.
Because company policies on personal conduct vary from organization to organization, some policies actually are designed to protect perpetrators from being identified and may, in fact, seek to silence victims. No one should ever have to put up with sexual harassment, assault or discrimination of any kind. Companies and organizations should work in order to ensure that it doesn’t become normalized or worse, accepted within the workplace, regardless of company culture.
According to a study conducted in 2016 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an estimated 87 to 94 percent of workers who experience sexual harassment do not report the incident. Even more astounding is that when it comes to sexual assault, 66 percent of those who are the victims in such incidents don’t report it to HR.
One reason for this is fear of retaliation by the perpetrator. An additional study that was conducted in 2003 indicated that 75% of those workers who experienced sexual harassment or assault also experienced retaliation when they did bother to report the incident. Some workers report that going to their company’s HR department there was little or no help given. Others found that not until they brought an attorney into the picture that allegations of sexual harassment or assault incidents were taken seriously.
For those workers who have gone through all of the proper channels and protocols as outlined in their company manual, for example, and gone to their HR department, there are additional ways for them to take control of the situation.
- Keep a record – Keep a log for yourself of any and all incidents that happen at work. Write down the date and the time of the incident as well as to who said or did what and what actions you took. Be as detailed as possible. It’s a good idea to keep either handwritten notes that you keep with you at all times when you are at work.
- The more organized you are the better. HR departments will take claims much more seriously when you can present documentation of the incidents and be able to show facts.
- According to Forbes contributor Kerry Hannon, it’s also a good idea to write an email when you file a complaint. She suggests writing something along the lines of, ‘This will confirm our conversation on June 15, 2016, in which I reported sexual harassment by my supervisor Jeff Roe. I reported the following instances of sexual harassment to you: [list them]. Please take prompt action to investigate this matter and address this situation.’” Print a copy for your own records. Any responses should also be logged in case you need to any legal steps regarding the incidents.
- Understand your rights and be sure to follow through on all reported incidents. If your company and its HR department are not taking appropriate action regarding such incidents, follow up. In accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it relates to sexual harassment, any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or conduct, whether verbal or physical, companies that do not take such incidents seriously can find themselves having to answer for it in court.
- As a last resort, seek legal advice. HR expert, Laura MacLeod, suggests that if your company’s HR department determines your claim has no merit, they will issue a response in writing stating specific reasons why. Workers should go back to their HR department and “address their points specifically and be ready to produce cold hard evidence,” MacLeod said. Some HR departments will take a closer look. If a worker reporting sexual harassment or assault on the job still does not receive satisfaction, seek competent legal advice and have your documentation in hand. According to women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred, HR policies regarding sexual harassment and discrimination are almost always designed to protect employers before the rights of employees. She recommends keeping this in mind at all times.
- Be prepared to walk away from your job if necessary. Of course, this may not be possible economically for some workers. If the workplace is becoming a hostile environment, however, it might be the best thing psychologically to find another place to work where you don’t have to face a potentially toxic situation on a daily basis.
- Consider calling the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault in the workplace. Workers are encouraged to call 800-656 HOPE (4673) or visit their website at rain.org.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is now coming under increased scrutiny through the media. Every organization should be concerned with protecting the rights of its workers to provide a safe and secure environment for all.
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