Is a workplace bully constantly texting your phone number or cyberstalking you? Are they in violation of your company's policy—and your comfort zone? Harassment cases aren't always physical; sometimes harassment can happen via text with obscene language or just incessant texting that makes one uncomfortable.
There is nothing more annoying than being on the receiving end of an unwanted text message, especially if those creepy texts are being sent to you by a coworker. When your career and professional image are on the line, it’s important to handle the situation properly and to be aware of your rights and legal options, especially if the unwanted texts take a serious turn away from a simple annoyance and into the realm of harassment.
Do Your Texts Constitute as Sexual Harassment?
The legal definition of harassment varies by state and federal law, but all forms of harassment center around repeated conduct that is unwanted and offensive. The key terms in this definition are the words repeated and offensive. If those unwanted, creepy text messages keep your cell phone buzzing at all hours - before work, during your breaks and at odd hours of your nights and weekends — it’s more likely that your co-worker’s offending behavior meets the definition of harassment.
Furthermore, consider the content of the text messages. To constitute harassment, the messages must be offensive in nature. The term offensive is defined from the perspective of a reasonable person, meaning that most people in the same situation would be offended by the content of the messages. Offensive content may include words or pictures that are sexual in nature, threats to your welfare or safety, or comments or insults based on your race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
While it may be tempting to want to confront your coworker about the text messages on your own, you should refrain from doing so. Unwanted text messages from a coworker, whether harassing in nature or not, should be reported immediately to your human resources department. Creepy text messages can easily escalate from an annoyance into harassment, and your human resources department should have a plan in place to help put an end to the text messages before the problem escalates. Be open and honest with your human resources department. Create a written statement about the details of creepy text messages and how the text messages impact your comfort level at work and the performance of your work. Make sure to date and sign your written statement, and request that your human resources file the statement in your employee file — which can be accessed even after you leave an employer in the event that you might need to take legal action in the future.
After you’ve reported the unwanted text messages to your human resources department and your employer fails to take proper action to put an end to the unwanted texts, you may have a legal claim against your employer for creating a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment may occur when your co-worker continues to send you unwanted text messages and the text messages interfere with your ability to do your job properly, causing your work performance to drop below your capabilities and your supervisor’s expectations. The harassment may also dissuade you from applying to other positions within your organization and thwart your ability to earn positive performance-based reviews. If you’ve found yourself dreading going to work every day as a result of the text messages, and have even had to skip work or leave early because of the uneasiness that the text messages have created in your life, then you should contact an employment attorney. An employment attorney will explain to you your rights and options, and help you determine the best course of action that you can take against your employer.
If you do find yourself on the receiving end of unwanted text messages from a coworker, it’s important to remember that you should never feel ashamed to bring the situation to light. No one should ever face harassment in the workplace, nor should you feel that you have to simply put up with the situation for the sake of your professional reputation or your career. It’s not your fault that your co-worker has forced you into an uncomfortable position by sending you unwanted text messages. If handled properly, the situation should be quickly resolved and you’ll get back to passionately pursuing your career without the unwanted text messages standing in your way.
In addition to contacting your human resources department, any texts that you receive that allude to violence, threaten your welfare or safety or the safety of your friends of family members should also be reported to your local police department.
Here's how to report unwanted texts to the police, according to an Owlcation writer:
1. Save the Sexual Harassment Data
Save all of your texts that you want to report by keeping the messages and even screenshotting them for backup. You will also want to "Lock" or "Protect" each harassing message, and send the screenshots to another device or your email that you can open on any device in case you lose your phone or it's stolen or sabotaged.
2. Get Your Cell Phone Records
Log in to your account and download your cell phone records. Call your phone provider for help accessing them if you need to, but just be sure to save and print the records that coincide with the harassment you are reporting.
3. Compile All the Evidence
The most important step (aside from having all of your evidence) is organizing it in a way that makes it easy for police to navigate through. File folders might help, and highlighting the texts that demonstrate the harassment could be super helpful, too.
Also, one folder may be your photo evidence, a second folder may be your print-outs of your cell phone records, and a third folder can consist of the proof of all the efforts you have made to stop the harassment (screenshots of you telling the offender to "stop harassing me," for example. You can also keep a folder of any "history" you've had with the harasser if they were a former friend or date, which would include any email correspondence, Facebook messages or other evidence that shows what lead up to the case.
4. Make an Index
An index should be laid out very clearly and easy to read. Label each of your folders to match the contents within and create an index similar to the one above that allows the detectives on your case to go to each folder as they need them without digging through mounds of paperwork and photographs.
"If you need to make 'notes,' write them onto a quarter-page size piece of paper and then staple the paper to the evidence that requires the note," the writer advises. "An example of an important 'note' would be: 'On this page you will see where Mr. Doe began the harassment. In Folder #3 you will see that this is the same date that I ended my relationship with Mr. Doe.' I like to tab my folders so they are mega-simple to go through."
5. Make a Matching Copy for Yourself to Keep, Too
"It is mandatory (in my opinion) that you make an identical copy of what you are providing to police for yourself," the writer adds. "You may not be able to get the files you turn over to law enforcement back for a very long time (if at all), depending on how far your case goes. In the event that police need to speak to you about evidence, it is a breeze to pull out your matching copy and refer to 'Folder #6, page #4, paragraph #2' and so on."
6. Include Your Contact Information
Always include your contact information on the very front of your binder or folder that contains your evidence so that the police and those working on your case can easily contact you if they need to. Include your address, email and an alternate contact phone number.
"If you have information about your harasser (name, nicknames, aliases, email, address, etc), make this its own folder," the writer advises. "Do not include this on the main page, as you do not want your evidence accidentally returned to your harasser instead of you."
7. Finally, Go to the Police
It's important to note that, if you know where your harasser lives, you will actually need to go to the law enforcement in their area, not yours, even if they live in the next city over. It's their police who will have to handle the case, and you'll want to ask for the detectives.
"Most likely you will need to explain your case briefly to the person working the front desk area'; when providing your explanation keep it short and simple," the writer explains. "Speak clearly and without emotion. Stating things like 'John Doe is a basket-case and psychopath who needs to be locked up!' is not effective and will not get you help any faster (even if John Doe is indeed a basket-case psycho who really does need to be locked up)."
The writer instead advises to use keywords that explain your issue, such as "John Doe began severely harassing me through text messages on (date). I have asked him to cease numerous times. The harassment has became worse and I am now fearful for my safety as well as my family's safety. I have brought all of the corresponding evidence of John's harassment with me."
Once you've reported the case to both your employer and the police, you'll be on your way to having it handled, hopefully in a timely manner. Don't think that an harassment offense via text messaging aren't a big deal. If you recognize harassment and feel that you are a victim of it, don't second guess your emotional distress. Do something about the text messaging before things escalate.
Chances are your employers and the police will be on your side—there are reasons for the anti-harassment policy and sexual harassment policy in place at your company and there's a reason for text message harassment laws. Bullying, stalking, cyberstalking or any kind of violation of the company's policies or the law are forbidden, and employers and police should handle the case as such, cut communication (via texting and all other avenues of communication) between you your workplace bully and put an end to the offense.
If you still want to learn more, here's more on sexual harassment in the workplace.