Sexual Harassment at Work: Steps You Can Take

Stock photo of portrait of young freckled woman against the wall. She has confident attitude and looking at camera. She is wearing casual clothes

If you’re being harassed at work, you’re not alone. Look no further than the daily news headlines and you’ll see that. The statistics back it up, too. More than 50% of women report having been sexually harassed at work.

Now, women are calling out their harassers, by name, publicly. The upsetting news: it’ still a problem, and it cannot be fixed overnight. Okay, so now we’re talking about it. But what can you do about it if it happens to you?

Dig up your employee handbook.

See what the explicit written language is regarding sexual harassment and/or hostile work environments. It should explain your rights and protections, including the process that will unfold once you report it. The same goes for a whistleblower policy; see if your company has a written policy and what the protections are.

Can you go to human resources?

Most mid-sized to larger companies have an HR department. But that doesn’t mean employees are lining up outside the door to speak with them. HR exists to protect both employees and the company. There’s a lot of fear about going to HR, only to have your complaint flipped over to an attorney who will work to keep you quiet. There’s an inherent conflict of interest when you’re calling out the folks who may pay your salary.

So—tread carefully here. Another thing to note is that most startups don’t have an HR department; they’re usually more focused on hiring out a development team than HR. So…

Call an attorney.

Many advisors suggest that you don’t screw around; call an attorney, immediately. If you’re serious about your complaint and protecting yourself, you need to take serious steps.

The challenge with HR, according to some, is that the investigations into your sexual harassment complaint may be biased: they may hesitate to enforce policies with senior executives, or top performers.

Write down every detail.

Document everything. Write down what’s happened to you, if there were any witnesses. Document how it has affected your work performance and your ability to get your job done. Give detailed examples of the unacceptable behavior, including that you asked for it to stop. Also, save emails and texts, if there’s evidence there.

Other tactics

Many women don’t speak out for fear of retaliation. But there’s another approach that some advocate taking: don’t just speak out, speak out boldly. Be just as brash as your harasser.

Magdalena Yesil, founder of Broadway Angels, wrote a piece called, “Women, Let’s Call Our Harassers Out By Name,” encouraging women to make “formal, public, documented complaints.” The point: women should not hold back, period. And that we need to collectively work together to boldly come forward and to feel safe in doing so.

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