Sexual harassment in the workplace. It happened…now what?

January 23, 2014

The top nine things to know if you’re sexually harassed at work

1. Don’t quit.

Many employees choose to leave their job as soon as an incident of sexual harassment occurs out of embarrassment or fear. Though understandable, quitting allows the perpetrator to continue his or her inappropriate behavior and victimize more of your coworkers. Out of loyalty to your company and respect for yourself, don’t run – report.

2. Look for the policy.

Locate your company’s policy and follow the documented procedures for dealing with sexual harassments. If the person designated to deal with sexual harassment issues is the harasser, find the next person designated.

3. Put it in writing.

Even if your company’s policy does not require a written complaint, put everything in writing. Include detailed descriptions of all incidents and include why the behavior constitutes sexual harassment. Unfortunately, general harassment, bullying and a hostile work environment are not illegal, but sexual harassment is punishable by law.

4. You probably can’t sue for a single incident.

Courts typically rule that sexual harassment has to be severe or pervasive enough as to alter the terms and conditions of employment. An isolated comment or grope may not guarantee a lawsuit, but you should still report the behavior. If the matter is not addressed or appropriate action is not taken, you may then have grounds for a suit.

5. The employer must investigate.

Investigations typically include interviews with coworkers, the harasser and any witnesses delegated by the alleged victim. Though you many lose confidentiality throughout this process, most employees report being relieved once they’ve finally reported the issue. Reporting sooner rather than later also saves you unnecessary discomfort and fear.

6. Keep reporting it.

The employer has a responsibility to provide you with a safe workplace. If you are retaliated against or continue to be harassed following your report of an incident, report it again. If the employer continues to allow retaliation or continued harassment, you will now need to report it to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or involve an attorney.

7. They don’t have to fire the harasser.

The law doesn’t require your employer fire the harasser, but you shouldn’t refuse to go back as a result of that. Instead, you may request a transfer of workspace or take special care to avoid the harasser.

8. You’re not alone.

Sexual harassment is more about power than about sex. A harasser who has gotten away with violations will typically continue the behavior until stopped. Therefore, you are probably not the first victim and unless you bring the issue to light, you will not be the last. As stated before, if an employer chooses to ignore this type of behavior, he or she runs the risk of being held strictly liable for the sexual harassment or even incurring punitive damages.

9. It’s time to quit.

Though it is generally advised you attempt to keep your job, there are a few exceptions to the rule. If the harasser is physically threatening you or causing harmful emotional/psychological damage, it is time to go. The courts will rule the only justification for quitting is if “no reasonable person would tolerate the behavior.” So, if you’re attempting to sue, only quit if your health, welfare or sanity is truly at risk.

-Adapted from © Conflict Resolution Network at

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