What can workers do when they think they face sexual harassment?
Sometimes sexual harassment is so blatant that people immediately identify it. If your supervisor touches you inappropriately or overtly offers job benefits in return for sexual favors, you probably instantly understand that their actions constitute sexual harassment.
For many people coping with sexual harassment on the job, the situation is not quite that clear. They may feel confused about the definition of sexual harassment and whether their circumstances actually meet that standard.
If you think that you may be subject to sexual harassment but are unsure, what steps should you take?
Review the definition of sexual harassment
Although the concept of sexual harassment is somewhat interpretive and subjective, there are still clear definitions that you can review. It is your feelings about the circumstance rather than the intent of the other party that matters.
Federal rules define sexual harassment as either the creation of a hostile work environment or someone using professional matters to coerce another worker into romantic or sexual situations. If your boss threatens to write you up because you refused to go on a date with them, that might be quid pro quo sexual harassment. If you have to deal with your co-workers gossiping about you and making jokes about your private life, then that might constitute a hostile work environment.
Keep a record of what you experience
Once you feel like your situation falls into one of the two categories of sexual harassment, the next step will be to discuss the matter with someone who knows the law and how to hold companies accountable. To discuss the situation with a legal expert, you will first need proof of the kind of behavior that you endure on the job.
Keeping records of every incident where you face unwanted flirtation, sexual solicitation or abuse from your co-workers because of your sex or sexuality can help you discuss the situation and determine what options you have available. Taking action may require filing an internal complaint or notifying regulatory agencies. In cases where companies ignore complaints or punish the worker who speaks up about harassment, civil litigation may be necessary.
Clarifying whether your situation constitutes workplace sexual harassment or not is a crucial first step for those who want a healthier workplace.