Office harassment can happen to anyone, and the best way to handle situations in which one feels harassed depends on the type of harassment and the person doing the harassing. Many offices have a specific policy concerning harassment that can be helpful in determining what course of action should be taken, but there are also many good strategies anyone can employ to handle harassment no matter the company policies. Handling office harassment almost always involves diffusing the initial situation, documenting the harassment, and informing the appropriate parties if it gets out of hand. While many cases of office harassment are mere matters of inconvenience and social discomfort, some escalate to levels of physical danger, so it is important to address the situation seriously.
Diffusing the initial situation is always the first step when handling office harassment. A person can be taken by surprise by a harasser and be left speechless or otherwise unable to respond appropriately to the harassment. Many people are simply shocked by the fact that it is happening at all. It is important to stay focused when being harassed and to directly inform the harasser that his or her actions or words are not appropriate. This itself is often enough to prevent future harassment.
An isolated incident may be a misunderstanding, but if the harassment continues after direct confrontation, documenting the office harassment is the next precaution to take. Collecting evidence that harassment has occurred and allows the company to take the proper response. This evidence might consist of threatening or offensive emails sent by the harasser, written transcripts of telephone calls, or even human witnesses who observed the incident directly.
After you are sure that the case is fully documented and prosecutable if necessary, then it is important to inform the appropriate member of the office management about the harassment. Many companies advise employees to go directly to a designated supervisor, with alternates provided. It is important to act quickly and tell this supervisor about the harassment, but not before collecting independent evidence. On paper, the company policy may be to assist victims, but in practice, this doesn't always happen. By collecting evidence first, you are protected both against the harasser and the company itself.
There are many kinds of office harassment, including sexual, racial, and religious harassment. It is important to consider that sometimes, you are better off not confronting the harasser if his or her intentions are clearly harmless and merely annoying. On the other hand, if the harasser is clearly dangerous, such as when someone makes harassing phone calls or physical threats, it is important to consider going beyond the office and talking to the police. A threat is no less a threat just because the offender is an acquaintance, and safety should always take precedence over office policy.