Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, all too common for women in the workplace. According to one study, an alarming 36% of women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment throughout their careers. More upsettingly, of the 5.1 million people who experience sexual harassment at work each year, only between 25% and 40% of them ever make an internal report to their superiors.
In the workplace, sexual harassment isn’t always easy to define. But even if you know what’s happening doesn’t feel right, it can be intimidating to know when an incident crosses the line and becomes illegal. Deciding what to do in these situations can be overwhelming – especially if the harassment is ongoing. If you believe you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, here are a few things you can do:
1. Document Everything
Even if you ultimately decide not to report sexual harassment to your employer, it’s still a good idea to keep a detailed log of the incidents that occur. In many cases, sexual harassment is a pattern. If you do decide to report the offenses, you’ll be able to provide specific examples and establish a timeline of the harassment.
Note the date, time, location, perpetrator and whether anyone witnessed the incident. Jot these notes in a notebook rather than on a computer and be sure to keep them safe outside of your workplace.
2. Let them know it’s unwelcome
If you feel safe doing so, make it clear to the perpetrator that their behavior makes you uncomfortable and you would like it to stop. If the harassment continues and you take the complaint to your employer, it can be helpful to say you made it clear to them that their conduct is unwelcome.
3. Consult an attorney
You don’t need a lawyer to report sexual harassment to your company or file a complaint with the EEOC; however, it can still be useful to speak with one about your case. Sexual harassment isn’t always black and white, and unfortunately, not all employers respond supportively or effectively to a complaint.
Seeking legal advice can clarify any confusion around your case and whether certain behaviors constitute sexual harassment. If your employer doesn’t seem to be investigating your claim, a lawyer can advise you on the next steps.
4. Report it to your company
While the best person to report sexual harassment to your organization is your human resources representative, you can also report it to your manager or anyone in management. All of these individuals have the same legal obligation to investigate your complaint.
You can report sexual harassment verbally or in writing, but writing is usually best to establish a paper trail. Ask your employer for a timeline on when you can expect to hear back about a decision on how they plan to address it.
The choice to move forward with a report of sexual assault at work isn’t an easy one, but it’s important to remember that you have a right to a safe work environment. As difficult as coming forward is, your actions may help prevent it from happening to someone else.