What to Do if You’ve Been Sexually Harassed at Work
What steps to take if your company blows off your complaint
Being sexually harassed on the job can be an emotional roller coaster. Victims may experience feelings of embarrassment, emotional upset, or even fear as they try to carry on with their work while fending off inappropriate behavior.
When you’re under such extreme stress, it may be difficult to know how to deal with the situation in a calm and professional way.
Let’s discuss what you should do if someone harasses you at work.
Most-Common Types of Harassment
While sexual harassment can take many forms, most cases tend to fall into two categories: severe and pervasive (often referred to as “hostile work environment” harassment) or quid pro quo.
Severe and pervasive harassment is generally harassment that goes on for a long time and that leads to a hostile work environment. This may include situations in which a coworker, supervisor or customer repeatedly:
- Comments on your figure
- Tries to draw you into conversations about sexual situations or attempts to get you to view suggestive images
- Makes sexual advances
- Discusses the opposite sex in a lewd or negative way
Quid pro quo harassment usually involves someone, often a supervisor, insisting that you give in to his or her sexual advances in exchange for something.
For example, a manager might promise a promotion or a key assignment if you agree to a sexual favor. Or, alternatively, the supervisor might threaten your job unless you give in to sexual advances.
Another variation of quid pro quo harassment might arise if you engage in a consensual romantic relationship with a coworker and then terminate the relationship. If your spurned lover decides to retaliate in a way that affects your working conditions, that could also be considered sexual harassment.
The First Thing You Should Do
In any sexual harassment scenario, the first thing you should do is consult your company handbook to find out what your employer’s sexual harassment reporting procedures are. (We’ll talk about what to do if your company doesn’t have reporting procedures in a moment.)
Follow the reporting mechanism spelled out in the handbook. Often, you’ll be required to report the situation to human resources or to your manager.
If the situation is addressed and the harassment stops, consider it a done deal. You generally won’t have a legal claim to pursue.
However, if the harassment doesn’t stop after you’ve made a complaint, you should speak to an attorney.
You should also:
- Create a timeline. Write down everything that you can recall, along with the approximate dates of each instance. Update your timeline with any new occurrences as they happen.
- Avoid discussing your situation with coworkers. Office gossip can sometimes interfere with possible witnesses’ recall of events. The rumor mill may also turn people against you if the harasser is generally well-liked.
- Cooperate with any on-going investigations by your employer.
Believe it or not, it may actually be to your advantage if your company doesn’t have a procedure for handling sexual harassment complaints.
In legal terms, that may preclude the company from raising an affirmative defense. That is, the company won’t able to avoid liability for the sexual harassment by arguing that it had a policy in place that you, as the victim, failed to follow.
Contact Us Now for a Free Consultation
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, it’s a good idea to speak to an employment law attorney to find out more about your rights.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.