29 Oct 2018
Harassment is an unwelcome behavior that is abusive and demeaning in nature. It exists in many different forms and can occur anywhere, even in one’s workplace. Despite every effort to combat it, harassment is still very much a hot issue in many work environments. Although it is ultimately management’s responsibility to protect employees from harassment, employees themselves have a role to play in fighting it.
Studies show that almost three-fourths of workers who experience harassment at work do not report the undesirable experience. It’s crucial to understand harassment in the workplace and how to take action against it because it has the potential to impact your career and personal wellbeing in a lot of ways. Knowing what constitutes harassment, identifying it when happens, and handling the situation professionally, can help you keep its adverse effects on your life minimal.
How can you tell if you’re being harassed?
Harassment is broadly defined as aggressive pressure or intimidation, including discriminative, threatening, and/or abusive words and actions. It is commonly associated with bullying, and thus the two terms are often used interchangeably. Actions that discriminate against age, gender, race, religion, etc., can qualify as harassment if they promote hostility in the workplace or start to interfere with an employee’s focus and productivity.
Sexual harassment involves unwanted sexual advances or indecent remarks. It may be directed at both male and female employees, but studies support the idea that women suffer from more sexual harassment in the workplace than men. Likewise, sexual harassment is not only limited to coworkers of the opposite sex. It can even go beyond actions and words—sending obscene images, videos and emails, and even a suggestive stare can be deemed offensive.
If you experience any of these identifiers, you have likely been a victim of workplace harassment. To protect yourself, here are seven important tips for dealing with bullying effectively.
Let the individual know that the behavior is unacceptable
Many harassment victims never say anything about their negative experience. Some even think that the unwelcome behavior is their fault—that they may have done something to provoke the misconduct. However, unless something is said, there’s every possibility that the harassment could escalate. To prevent this, victims of abusive behavior need to speak out and say that the bullying behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable. This may—and should—convince the wrongdoer to cease with the unwanted actions.
Document the misbehavior
If asking the individual to stop is not enough, then you need evidence. Always make a record describing any incident of inappropriate behavior, even the very first occurrence. Write down the date, time, and place where it happened, along with any colleague present. Describe the incident in detail, including how you reacted to the unwanted actions. Should matters escalate to legal cognizance, written documentation of any or all occurrences of harassment is critical, as you can use them to protect your job as well as your reputation.
Depending on where you live, you may even have the right to record a conversation without the other party’s consent. Research your local employment laws to see if this is allowed. A video or audio recording can be a hard evidence to ignore that it’s often enough to compel management to take immediate action against the harasser.
Utilize other forms of record-keeping
Check and probe your emails, text messages, and other digital records that may support your statement. Is it obvious in your correspondence with the individual that you are being harassed? Even technology that doesn’t relate to computers and mobile devices can be useful in corroborating information. Phone records, receipts, log-in/log-out registers can be valuable proofs, depending on the circumstances.
It’s not uncommon for harassment cases to boil down to a "he said/she said" scenario, so you need all the evidence you can get. If there are witnesses to your harassment, talk to these people and see who may be willing to stand as your witness and support you in your fight. Seek to corroborate the version of each confirmed witness of what did or didn’t happen, then collect their written statements. If you’re having trouble finding witnesses among your coworkers, a video recording may be useful for identifying the presence of potential witnesses who entered and exited the area.
Refer to company policies
Practically all medium to large business have policies in place to curb if not eliminate unwanted employee behavior, so revisit your employee manual and brush up on your company’s official policy on harassment. Read up on these policies before reporting the harassment and follow instructions as closely as possible. Armed with the knowledge of proper procedures, you may then report the harassment to your supervisor, human resources, or the person in charge of dealing with such issues. Keep a copy of your complaint and any response you may receive from your employer.
Consider filing a harassment claim
Unfortunately, not every company policy can protect an employee from bullying behavior. Some will even require the reported behavior to violate civil right employment laws before they act. In such cases, your next step would be to consider filing a harassment claim with your local labor department office. In the US, victims of workplace harassment can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Educate yourself to ensure your complaint actually counts as harassment before submitting it.
Even when faced with workplace harassment, it’s important to resign with grace and professionalism. If you filed a harassment claim, you need to plan your resignation meticulously, because it can lead to legal repercussions that may affect your claim. Write a formal resignation letter stating your reason for leaving, give your employer adequate notice, and be prepared to move forward with your harassment claim. Seek the advice of a legal professional. These steps can help set you up for success and make it easier to transition from a troubling work environment into a new and hopefully better one.