Chances are good you’ve heard a sexual harassment horror story or two from a friend, family member, coworker or even a stranger online. Whether in the form of an inappropriate backrub from a boss or a sexist comment, sexual harassment is still something many women in the workplace deal with.
While we all hope to never experience sexual harassment at work, knowing what to do if it ever appears is crucial for getting the protection and respect you deserve. Here are eight things you need to know about sexual harassment in the workplace.
1. Know the Definition of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment doesn’t only include sexual behavior. While we most commonly link sexual harassment to unwanted advances or inappropriate sexual comments, it also includes any discriminatory action based on gender, whether male or female.
If you’re being given different shifts, different work or being passed over for opportunities and promotions for being a female, this would be considered sexual harassment.
2. Quitting Could Cancel a Potential Lawsuit
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment, you may feel compelled to leave the company behind. However, if you’re no longer an employee of the company, you won’t be able to file a sexual harassment claim on their policy. Without the claim, you may not have a lawsuit. If you still want to quit, do so after you’ve filed the claim and complied with the investigation.
3. Know Your Company Policy
Each company should have a set policy that tells employees what to do if they would like to file a sexual harassment claim. This policy and procedure should be available to you in an employee handbook, contract or in another document easily accessible to you.
This policy should tell you who to report to, what you will need to provide and what you should do if appropriate steps are not taken. Follow the policy step-by-step.
4. Understand How You’re Protected
Many women do not file sexual harassment claims because they fear they’ll lose their job or they will be further discriminated against. In the case of a sexual harassment claim, it’s actually illegal for your employer to retaliate against you under Title VII.
Title VII also protects you if you assist in the sexual harassment case of a coworker or other employee, so don’t be afraid to give a witness testimony or participate in an investigation for a case you’re not a direct part of.
5. Your Employer Will Need to Investigate
If you submit a sexual harassment claim, it’s your employer’s duty to investigate it. This means your entire office may need to get involved in the investigation process. It also means the person who harassed you will probably know you’ve reported them, even if your employer promises it will be anonymous.
Unless your harasser is making inappropriate comments to other individuals in the office, they’ll probably be able to put it together.
6. Your Harasser Doesn’t Need to Be Fired
Just because you file a sexual harassment claim doesn’t mean your harasser will be terminated. Unless the event is extremely severe or consistent, your harasser probably isn’t going to get fired. However, your employer should take extra precautions to ensure this type of harassment doesn’t happen again.
This may include special training, transferring the harasser to another location or separating you and your harasser so you don’t need to communicate in the building.
7. An Isolated Incident May Not Be Enough to Sue
Unfortunately, a one-time event probably isn’t enough to build an entire case around. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report the harassment through your company policy. While it may be an isolated incident this time, it could turn into a repeat offense down the road. Having the documentation to address each instance of harassment can be important to a case.
Reporting an instance of sexual harassment is also important because you never know whether someone else in your office might be experiencing the same thing.
8. Do What’s Best for You
While it’s your employer’s responsibility to protect you from sexual harassment, sometimes they just don’t do enough.
If you feel your employer isn’t taking the appropriate measures to keep you safe at work, decide what’s best for you and follow through on that decision. If that means reporting the company to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or hiring an attorney, don’t be afraid to do so.
Sexual harassment shouldn’t be something we need to worry about, but unfortunately some of us do. If you ever experience discrimination or harassment because of your gender, be sure to take the necessary steps to ensure it’s brought to light and the appropriate measures are taken. Knowing what you need to do to protect yourself is the first step toward ending sexual harassment in the workplace.
Whether you’re currently experiencing sexual harassment or you just want to be prepared in case you’re ever a victim or a witness, keep these eight tips in mind.
Sarah Landrum is an expert career blogger and the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and lifestyle blog helping professionals create a career they love and live a happy, healthy life. For more from Sarah, follow her on social media and subscribe to her newsletter.
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