Dealing with harassment in the workplace is very tricky. Most of us just want to put in our hours from 9 to 5, then go home and focus on other things. But if you are facing harassment, your workplace has suddenly because a source of uneasiness where you might not feel safe. If you are confused about whether you are being harassed and what to do about it, don’t worry. First, we’ll tell you what counts as harassment – and then we’ll tell you what you can do about it.
Know What Constitutes Harassment
- According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) website, “Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” So, any isolated incidents won’t count unless they were grave, and regular office annoyances do not constitute harassment.
- Offensive conduct includes offensive jokes, physical threats, ridicule, offensive pictures, name calling, and other things that interferes with your work performance. This harassment can be based on your national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, race, color, age, or disability.
- Sexual harassment includes unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, etc. But sexual harassment does not only have to be of a sexual nature – and it does not matter what the gender of the victim and harasser are. If someone is making offensive remarks about your sex and it affects your ability to work, it is sexual harassment.
- Harassment does not only have to come from your boss. It can come from another department’s supervisor, a co-worker, or even a client.
- It is also important to realize that anyone can be a victim if they are affronted by the harasser’s conduct – even if they are not the person being harassed.
Know Your Rights
- It is your right to come to work and find a safe environment that you feel comfortable in. That is why most employers provide anti-harassment training to managers and employees – to try to prevent harassment in the workplace.
- If the company is failing to provide you with a space where you can be productive and unbothered, reporting the harassment is your right.
- The law cannot stop someone from isolated incidents (unless they are very serious), teasing, or offhand comments.
- If you feel that you are being harassed at work and you initiate or participate in any kind of proceedings against your employer, there are anti-discrimination laws in place to stop your employer from retaliating against you. That means you cannot be fired, demoted, taken off of a good assignment, or transferred to a difficult/unpleasant one. Those same laws will protect you if you participate in proceedings in support of a co-worker who has been harassed.
What You Should Do
- Be confident. If you are a victim of harassment, it is your right to speak up for yourself and try to make your place of work safe again.
- Check the handbook. Each company is different, so consult your company handbook – it may tell you what the company policies on harassment are and if you should take your complaints to a certain person like an HR rep, or submit your grievance in writing. If you don’t comply with the company’s policy and instead decide to immediately take action with a lawyer or the EEOC, you are not giving the company a chance to deal with it themselves. Therefore, you will not be able to legally hold the company accountable.
- When writing down or reporting the harassment, make sure to be as specific as possible. If you can, list what was done, who witnessed it, and the time and place of the harassment.
- According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employees are encouraged to come forward and tell their harasser to stop at an early stage, before it worsens. If you feel safe confronting you harasser, that can be a good place to start. If not, go to human resources so the company has a chance to directly deal with the situation.
- If you feel safe speaking to your harasser, explain what their behavior is bothering you. They may be surprised when you speak up, so make sure you cite specific examples. Then ask them to stop their offensive jokes or behavior.
- If you want to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, do it quickly. To preserve your rights, you have to file within six months of the act. The act of filing is pretty simple – you don’t even need a lawyer, because the EEOC’s website has instructions on how to do it yourself.
- Tell your family and close friends. No matter what comes next, you are going to need a support system.
- If you are not sure whether you want to take action or not, you can wait while still protecting yourself. Keep a record of everything: the good work you are doing, the discrimination you see at work, copies of your job evaluations, memos from your boss praising your effort, etc. You can even call the EEOC and discuss with a counselor what your options are before you decide anything.