How to Keep Yourself Safe
By definition, sexual harassment is harassment in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, that involves the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. This includes requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Thought the law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that aren’t serious, harassment is illegal when it is happening so often or severely that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. This sort of behavior usually ends in serious repercussions for the offender, such as a demotion or being fired.
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone – not just women. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a manager from another department, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee, such as a client or customer.
Is It Harassment?
It’s important to know how to determine whether or not you or another employee are being sexually harassed. To decide whether a behavior is acceptable, questionable or prohibited, follow this guide:
- Joe holds the door for his female co-workers.
- Mary tells Jack he did a great job on last week’s reports.
- A customer compliments Sue’s new haircut.
- Joe touches the back of a female co-worker when he holds the door for her.
- Mary touches Jack’s shoulders as she tells him he did a great job on last week’s reports.
- A customer touches Sue’s hair as he compliments her haircut.
- Joe makes a comment about women being weak as he holds the door for female co-workers.
- Mary suggests she’ll do Jack a ‘favor’ if he performs as well as he did last week.
- A customer offers explicit words to compliment Sue’s new haircut, which make her feel uncomfortable.
Take These Actions
If you are being sexually harassed, there are a few steps you can take to resolve the issue.
Step 1: Speak Up
The first step in resolving sexual harassment is to confront the offender. They may not know that their advances are unwanted or realize the things they say or do make you feel uncomfortable. Addressing the issue with the offender once, usually stops the behavior. If you feel you can’t speak to the offender directly, send them a written message telling them their behavior offends you, and you will go to the authorities if it continues.
Step 2: Know Your Rights
Sexual harassment is illegal. Most employers have workplace policies to protect employees from this sort of behavior. Often, workplaces offer hotlines or direct lines to the human resources department to report any incidents. As an employee, you have the right to report any actions that make you uncomfortable without any repercussions. If the offender is sending you emails or letters, keep all evidence as well as your response.
It’s also important to note that your employer doesn’t have to fire the offender, and you probably can’t incarcerate them for one offense. The US Supreme Court states that sexual harassment has to be so severe or frequent that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. A single grope, comment or inappropriate email isn’t enough for a lawsuit, but it still needs reported. Your employer may discipline or suspend the harasser, move them to a different department or location, make them complete sexual harassment training, or terminate them, in extreme cases.
Step 3: You’re Not Alone
Sexual harassment happens so often that incidents may go unreported or are not taken seriously. It is your employer’s responsibility to create a sense of workplace safety. If a harasser keeps attacking, keep reporting it. Report every incident, no matter how small. To an offender, sexual harassment is more about power than sex. The harasser who gets away with small violations will accelerate the behavior until it is stopped. Many times, there are multiple victims of one harasser, but someone has to be the first to come forward. If your employer turns their head, they run the risk of being held lawfully liable for the sexual harassment and may incur penalties or legal action for damages.
If the behavior continues and nothing changes, it may be time to move on. While it isn’t fair for a victim to relocate due to sexual harassment, sometimes it is the only way to keep yourself safe.
If you are driven to the point of an emotional or nervous breakdown or are being physically threatened and your employer is doing nothing to protect you, it’s time to leave. No job is worth you getting emotionally or physically hurt. Just know that quitting may sacrifice your chances to sue the harasser, so only quit if you are truly risking your health and safety.
About SACS Consulting and Investigative Services
SACS Consulting and Investigative Services understands your rights and how they apply to your place of work. Give us a call today at (330) 225-1101 to ask about our sexual harassment training and harassment in the workplace training to make sure you have the right policies in place to protect yourself and your organization.