There are two main categories of workplace harassment. There is sexual and non-sexual harassment.
The former refers to any uninvited comment or conduct that is sexual in nature. It could be something as seemingly innocuous as suggestive staring. Sexual workplace harassment is not exclusive to two colleagues of the opposite sex.
Meanwhile, non-sexual harassment happens when a co-worker or superior undermines or bullies an employee on the basis of race, religion, age, gender, or disability. Any action that makes the work environment hostile for an employee can be considered workplace harassment.
Workplace harassment is often skewed toward women and employees from minority groups. If you experience workplace harassment, here are the things you can do.
Refer to your organization’s official policies
Ideally, you work for an organization that has drafted anti-harassment policies and actively imposes these rules. Once you fall victim to any form of harassment, refer to these written guidelines. What you learn should inform you on how to go about dealing with your concern.
You can choose to address the problem internally by reporting the incident to your immediate superior and HR. Alternatively, you can go straight to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Before choosing between these two options, make sure you have weighed the pros and cons for each. Bear in mind that your decision could impact your career. However, that should not discourage you from reporting.
Write an incident report
After you experience workplace harassment, you will go through a moment of shock, maybe even fear and trauma. After these emotions subside, sit down and write what happened in as much detail as you can muster. Your goal is to commit to a written record of what happened while it is still fresh in your memory.
Keep a record of this report. Have both physical and digital copies tucked in storage where they cannot be compromised. You will have to present it to your HR department or other relevant governing bodies when you file a report.
In case you have been receiving sexually charged comments on your Facebook posts from a co-worker or superior, on top of harassment gestures and verbal innuendos at work, you can use these posts to strengthen your complaint. Even if your harasser has deleted those posts, you can resort to social media monitoring and web archiving technology to retrieve them. Web archiving is the process whereby online data is gathered and stored for future research. You can use this as evidence when filing a complaint.
You can also talk to potential witnesses. Some of your workmates might think twice talking about the incident, especially if you are up against a high-ranking official in your organization. Convince them that it is for everyone’s benefit.
Surround yourself with a strong support system
You have your friends and family. If you feel that they can provide you with a safe space to share your experience, let them know what you are going through. They will be able to give you the emotional support you need.
At the workplace, you need to have a strong support system, too. Do not isolate yourself. In the end, your friends at work will be the ones who will have your back when the going gets tough. Be tough but vulnerable enough to admit you need help.
Make an official complaint
As much as possible, do not informally discuss the incident with colleagues without formally filing a complaint. You do not want gossip to weaken the legitimacy of your story. As soon as you are ready, reach out to HR or your immediate superior. Discuss what happened in detail. Provide the evidence you have gathered, and name the witnesses you have assembled. Follow office protocol in complaint filing so as not to give your harasser any chance to question and undermine your moves. Be strategic.
The policymakers within an organization should actively pursue the imposition of written rules against workplace harassment. However, everyone in the organization is responsible for ensuring that the workplace stays safe for all employees regardless of rank or demographic characteristics. Everyone should be empowered to report workplace harassment of whatever nature, whether it’s witnessed or experienced first hand. It should be part of workplace culture.
If you experience workplace harassment, do not be paralyzed by fear. Step up and make sure to inform the relevant people from within your organization about the incident. Doing so might curb the behavior of your harasser. They will stop doing stuff they know they cannot get away with.
If your harasser keeps on making the workplace toxic for you and the people in charge are not doing anything about it, it’s time for more drastic measures. That includes consulting with a lawyer outside the organization to explore your legal options.