Sexual harassment is sadly a common occurrence in the workplace. Contrary to what many people think, sexual harassment in the workplace is not peculiar to female employees. Many male employees have also been victims of workplace sexual harassment.
If you have been a victim of workplace sexual harassment, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Sexual harassment is unlawful in the United States. Victims may therefore seek redress by going through the complaint procedure their organization provides. Employees facing sexual harassment may forward an official complaint to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or go to court to defend their rights.
Steps in dealing with sexual harassment
Knowing what to do when faced with sexual harassment is essential. Situations like this require an employee to take prompt action as the law requires the victim to initiate action within 180 days. What are the steps to take in handling cases of workplace sexual harassment?
#1. Determine if the action qualifies as harassment.
Not every advance in the workplace qualifies as sexual harassment in the eyes of the law. Before you can take any action, you may first need to determine that the action will qualify as sexual harassment. For an action to qualify as sexual harassment, it has to meet the following criteria.
The victim must be offended: an action won’t qualify as sexual harassment if the recipient did not find it offensive at the point of conduct. The decision on which action qualifies as sexual harassment is not cut and dried as so many factors are put into consideration before concluding.
Action needs to be serious: if the employee is threatened with job termination, it is severe enough. However, suppose you accidentally bump into your employee or colleague seeing an obscene movie. In that case, it may not qualify as sexual harassment.
#2. Go through standard procedures
If you can talk to the individual personally, speak up immediately. When you voice out your displeasure, it may solve the problem on the spot. However, if the action continues or you feel intimidated talking to the person, you can file an official complaint. Many organizations have standard procedures for reporting sexual harassment. Find out the procedure that is available in your organization and follow through.
The complaint filing procedure will most likely be in the employee guidebook of your organization. Don’t wait too long to act as time is of great essence here. Once you have filed an official complaint, exercise patience and allow the organization to do the needful.
While filing a complaint may be verbal, it is also essential that you have it in writing. Having your complaint in writing ensures that it is adequately documented for reference purposes. Some of the details you need to capture in your complaint include the date, type of action, and name of the person involved.
#3. Decide if you will hire an attorney
There may not be any need to involve an attorney if your company addresses the complaint promptly. However, where your organization seems not to be doing anything about your complaint, you may as well hire an attorney. Engaging the services of an attorney will cost you. However, if you decide to go to court, you will get reasonable compensation for your extra troubles.
Suppose, for any reason, you doubt your organization’s ability to handle the matter with equity and fairness. You may also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In that case, you may as well hire an employment attorney to direct you on the best line of action to take. The EEOC will investigate the matter and ensure that you get justice.
It is possible to suffer retaliation from your superiors or even colleagues after filing a complaint. Retaliation in itself is illegal and comes in the form of denial of benefits, promotion, or outright job termination. Where this is the case, working with an employment attorney is the best thing to do.
You now know what to do if you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you face sexual harassment, as you will not only be protecting your rights but saving others who may be victims in the future.