Sexual harassment in the workplace is rampant. In some cases, it’s so subtle it often goes undetected and unreported. In others, it’s so glaring that anyone who bothers to look cannot miss it.
Of course, if you are the target of sexual harassment at the workplace, you will definitely know or “feel” it, however subtle it may be. Reporting it becomes your responsibility if the culprit continues to harass you.
This is not easy. It takes guts to report incidences of harassment at the workplace, let alone those of a sexual nature. It gets even more complicated when the culprit is a senior leader. In more severe cases, reporting sexual harassment in the workplace involves a thorough third-party investigation.
Below are seven steps for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace:
Step #1: Understand What Being Sexually Harassed Means
Before taking the bold action of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, you need to understand what it means to be sexually harassed. Alleged sexual harassment at the workplace is any unsolicited, unwelcome sexual conduct that makes the workplace environment feel intimidating, offensive, or hostile.
The offence could be in the form of sexual jokes that belittle an employee, a workplace replete with pornographic images, or a brazen sexual assault.
Step #2: Tell the Harasser to Cease
One of the most effective ways to stop harassment, albeit difficult for most people, is to tell the harasser to cease their behaviour. If the harassment is subtle, such as inappropriate comments about your looks, asking the person to stop could work.
Let the harasser know their conduct towards you makes you uncomfortable and that they should stop. The legal threshold of workplace harassment is that it’s unwelcome. Letting a harasser know their behaviour is unwelcome potentially lays the basis for a legal process should they refuse to cease the offensive conduct.
Should the harasser ignore your verbal requests to stop the unwelcome conduct, demand in writing that they do so. Keep a copy for future reference. If you don’t feel safe confronting the offender, complain to your supervisor instead.
Step #3: Lodge a Complaint with Your HR Department
If previous attempts at getting the harasser to stop fail, or if they intimidate you, your next recourse is to report it to your supervisor. Read the employee manual or handbook for details on the procedure of reporting workplace sexual harassment.
If such a policy doesn’t exist, ask HR or your supervisor about the procedure for lodging a sexual harassment complaint. If no help is forthcoming, move up the chain of command until someone in authority is willing to listen to you.
Document your complaint-reporting journey as this could be a critical piece of evidence should you later decide to escalate your case to the courts.
Lodging a sexual harassment complaint with your company is a critical step in seeking and getting justice. Skipping this crucial step could harm your case should you decide to escalate it to the courts later.
Step #4: Document the Harassment Claims
At some point, you might be required to prove the harassment case before a government agency, a jury, or a company investigator. It’s, therefore, critical that you document everything, from the harassment to the steps you took to report it.
Collect as much evidence about the incidence as possible and don’t leave out any detail. If the harasser sends you offensive cards, emails, notes, pictures, etc., save them.
If a cartoon or jokes pinned at a public place in the workplace made you uncomfortable, confiscate them and add them to your body of evidence. If you can’t seize them, make copies.
As you take a record of these offensive items, please write down the dates they were posted. Also, note if you experienced hostility upon taking them down.
You must maintain a detailed journal of every harassment incidence. The journal should include the names of the people involved and when and where it happened. Were there witnesses? Write down their names. Be specific about what was done or said to you and how it affected you, your work, health, or work performance. If necessary, hire corporate investigation services to document the harassment claims in the workplace.
Step #5: Give the Organization a Chance to Address Your Complaints
Allow the company to help in resolving your complaint. Cooperate with HR by sharing copies of evidence that you may have. The key here is to give your employer a fair chance to address your concerns and avoid further escalation.
Step #6: Complain to the Relevant Government Agencies
If attempts to address the harassment incident using the company’s established policies fail, you can complain to the appropriate government agency.
This is a critical step since you may not be able to escalate your complaint to the courts if you skip it. Depending on your convictions about workplace harassment, you can escalate the complaint higher up the dispute-resolution chain.
It’s important to note that filing complaints with the government comes with time limits. Understand what these time limits are to file in an appropriate timeframe.
Step #7: Go to Court!
If the above steps don’t work for you, the last port-of-call is the court. At this stage, you need to hire an attorney.
Make sure you have all your ducks in a row since documented evidence of the harassment case and your reporting journey this far will prove critical in determining your case.