What can I do About Office Sexual Harassment?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2019
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Office sexual harassment, in forms such as lewd jokes and overt sexual advances, often causes feelings of discomfort and anxiety but can also cause feelings of helplessness. If you experience sexual harassment in the office, whether as the target of that attention or as a witness to inappropriate acts, there are measures you can take. In many cases, confrontation with the person responsible is sufficient. When stronger measures are required, you can speak with your supervisor or your human resources department, and you might want to consider legal action in some cases.

Definitions of office sexual harassment vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but the basic concept typically is the same. Many employers have a sexual harassment policy as well, and your manager or human resources department can provide details. Office sexual harassment is widely considered to be any unwelcome activity or attention of a sexual nature, and it might include jokes, innuendo, display of inappropriate photographs or leering as well as more aggressive physical actions such as grabbing or impeding one's movement. In most regions, actions must be relatively severe or recurring, causing the victim discomfort or anxiety. Innocuous compliments to a coworker’s appearance, for instance, generally are not considered harassing, but frequent or suggestive remarks would be inappropriate.

Most sexual harassment policies define the activity as undesired, meaning that your first step when faced with office sexual harassment is to clearly state your discomfort or displeasure. It is important that your statements are completely clear, blunt and unapologetic. Remember, it is the harasser’s behavior that is inappropriate, not your confrontation.

Documentation is another critical step you can take to combat sexual harassment. Record incidents in detail, including dates, times and exactly what occurred. Be sure to include the names of any potential witnesses as well. Try to keep your account objective, sticking to the facts. Making the aggressor aware of your records might help as a deterrent, but be sure to keep these records secure, away from the workplace, where they might be stolen or altered.

Often, people are reluctant to report office sexual harassment, but this can be one of your most effective tools in bringing the harassment to an end. In most jurisdictions, employers have clear legal obligations when faced with allegations of sexual harassment, and ignoring your report will most likely expose the company to legal action. Even when your supervisor is the accused harasser, an official report will make your allegations much more difficult to avoid.

In those case where dealing with your employer’s management structure does not work, you might need to file a complaint with other agencies. If you belong to a union, you can file a grievance. You might also pursue legal options, filing a complaint or a lawsuit. In each of these cases, your documentation will help defend your case and bring the office sexual harassment to an end.

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