Workplace Harassment: Not Our Job to Tolerate It

6 Mar

Workplace harassment can be arguably one of the trickiest situations for women to deal with. It may be hard to recognize, and women often perceive negative consequences for taking action against it. Worse, many women come to feel that harassment is a normal part of the working experience– something we all have to get used to or put up with. Just part of the job.

Women should not be expected to endure sexual harassment from their employers, coworkers or customers in order to be successful in the working world. It is wrong, and yes– it is illegal.

The website has some great information about sexual harassment at work.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

Unfortunately, this definition does not include one-time instances unless they are “severe” (ex: rape). It does, however, include harassment that may not be “sexual” per se but rather gender based discrimination. This could include sabotaging the work of female employees in a male dominated work setting, for example.

The federal law against sexual harassment in the workplace is . State laws vary. Legally, not only are employers required to protect employees from sexual harassment, but they are prohibited from retaliation should an employee make a complaint. That means if your employer attempts to fire or otherwise punish you for speaking out about your experience of workplace sexual harassment, they are punishable by law.

A great way to protect yourself is to inquire about your employer’s sexual harassment policies immediately upon applying for or accepting a new job. Employers should have written policies that dictate how they will respond to incidents of harassment. If they do not, you could suggest that they write them or offer to help get that project started. Be sure to note policies regarding sexual harassment by customers, which employers are also required to protect against by law. As an employer, I can speak to the fact that the happiness and safety of employees is central to the success of a business. I would rather lose one customer than have that person creating problems for employees or other customers.

What to do if you experience sexual harassment in your workplace:

1. Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome, unwanted and inappropriate.

2. Document the incident in writing in as much detail as possible (including witnesses and, if possible, their accounts of what happened).

3. Report the incident to your superior in writing to create a paper trail, and follow the policies set forth by your employer for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment.

4. If these steps do not remedy the situation, it may be time to take legal action.

I think it is also important to address the social nature of the workplace. I have had many women express to me in self defense classes that they feel uncomfortable confronting employers or coworkers about harassment because it could create an awkward social situation. This is what I have to say to that: If someone is harassing you at work, they have created an awkward situation! If they feel embarrassed when you confront them– good! They should feel embarrassed and ashamed! Why would you worry about making someone feel uncomfortable when that person has already made you feel not only uncomfortable, but potentially unsafe? Exactly. The harassment is the problem. Confronting the harasser is the solution.

Finally, many women have a problematic habit of doubting themselves when other people disrespect them. I hear a lot of “Well, maybe he’s just trying to be nice,” or “I could just be overreacting.” Just because sexual harassment and gender discrimination is such a common experience that many of us have gotten used to it does not make it any less serious of a problem. Let me put it this way– as a general rule, if someone is bothering you enough that you are having a conversation with yourself in your head in which you need to justify their behavior, their behavior was probably inappropriate.

Do they know that they behaved inappropriately? Maybe, maybe not. Should it be your job to inform them of what constitutes appropriate behavior? No, it really shouldn’t. Should you have that talk with them anyway? Yeah, I’d recommend it. Even if this person rejects what you have to say, you still take back your power in the act of saying it.

Anyone have stories of standing up to harassment? I’d love to hear your comments!

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One Response to “Workplace Harassment: Not Our Job to Tolerate It”

  1. March 7, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    Great advice! Another fab post.

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