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How to Handle Sexual Harassment

May 22, 2015

If you’ve been in a situation in the workplace where a coworker or supervisor has said or done something inappropriate, first know that you are not alone. It’s an unfortunate and sad reality that sexual harassment in the workplace happens, but you do not have to feel stuck in it. We have asked experts from several companies for their advice on how to handle situations like these, and hope their tips will equip you to be brave, speak up, and make your workplace a safer, happier, better environment for everyone.

There are several ways to navigate handling a sexual harassment situation (or any type of harassment) in your workplace.

The first option is to speak directly to the person who has made you feel uncomfortable or unsafe if you feel like that’s a conversation you can handle having. Decide if you feel like you can confidently and clearly express yourself with that person before going into that conversation. Plan a time to meet privately to discuss the situation, and prepare notes for yourself in advance so you are well-prepared.

Ellen, hiring expert at Hospira, says “If someone is making you feel uncomfortable I would encourage you to say something to the person.  Even if that may be awkward.  [The person] may not be aware this is an issue and it can be corrected.” Make sure you document everything that is said in this meeting so you have proof and concrete evidence of how things played out in case you need it.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the person directly, another option would be to speak with a supervisor or boss who works closely with you or with the person who has harassed you. Make sure this is a conversation that is professional and well-documented, not just a time for you to vent or complain or gossip.

Another great option is to speak directly with the human resources department of your company. Stephanie, a hiring expert at Asurion says, “Your HR representative should know the federal laws/regulations as well as the company policy and should be able to inform you of different courses of action to take.”

This is something that directly falls under what HR department is there to help employees through, so do not feel strange or nervous about sharing your concerns with them. Talking to HR can be helpful for the entire company, as they may be able to intervene or help improve the situation on a bigger scale.

Mike, a hiring expert from Avery Dennison, says “HR can keep a record of the situation, so if it happens again, or if there is any retaliation, they can move to further disciplinary action for your boss as needed.” You can request that your name be kept out of any further action or discussions to protect your anonymity but still work to resolving and improving this situation and others.

“Another option may be if your company has a 'Business Practices' or 'Ethics' group,” Steve from Caterpillar says. “This is usually a place where employees can anonymously report such things that are in conflict with yours and your company's values.” Research what other avenues might exist for you to share your concerns within your company, and see if those work well for you to pursue.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to anyone in your company, there are still options for you. Stephanie also says, “You may consider speaking to a counselor about your situation for added support. Some companies even provide some sort of assistance program, so that you do not have to pay out of pocket for the counseling sessions.”

Speaking to a counselor, trusted friend, family member, mentor or pastor may help you work through a personal plan of action while knowing you aren’t alone in your situation. Show respect for all people involved in the situation and try to keep names out of it to speak objectively about the situation without opening the door for any potential harm or further issues to arise.

Mike offers another tip: “Lastly, if you have exhausted all options, I would recommend you explore possible legal actions.  Typically you would want to look into the EEOC, a government agency, which is the policy group over issues around discrimination, harassment, and similar situations.  If you go this route, you may also want to get an employment attorney involved, as they could also provide good legal advice and next steps.”

Regardless of who you talk to or what plan of action you take, remember to document all conversations and actions thoroughly to protect yourself in case the need arises in the future.

It is brave to speak out about harassment you’ve experienced of any kind, and doing so can help turn the tide of your company toward a better and safer place for all employees.


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