Many people, both men and women, have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Feelings of intimidation by superiors can make the victim feel powerless. However, seeking redress through the company procedures on sexual harassment or filing an administrative suit can help you receive compensation for emotional distress and lost wages, among other fringe benefits.
There are a number of things you need to be aware of should you become a victim of sexual harassment at the workplace.
1. Speak Up
The most common reason for remaining silent is the fear of being labelled a troublemaker. You should boldly face the culprit and tell them what they did was inappropriate. It may be useful to walk them through in advance what you will do if this behaviour occurs again. A loud-and-clear on-the-spot message can go a long way in emphatically stating that the overture was legally inappropriate. Hopefully, this should stop the matter from escalating further.
2. Talk to Supportive and Trustworthy Co-workers
In workplace situations, if it’s happened to you, it may have happened to someone else. Talking to sympathetic colleagues can help you establish the history of the offender and determine whether it has happened to anyone else. Talking to others will also give you the support necessary for further action, or at least help you understand how the company handles sexual harassment.
3. Make a Formal Report
Some companies have detailed procedures for handling sexual harassment claims. Check to see if your employer has an anti-harassment policy. If one exists, follow the established procedures for filing a complaint and reporting the incident. While policies for different companies may vary, most state the employer will promptly conduct an impartial investigation, and, in the meantime, ensure that the harassment stops.
In case your company does not have a policy in place for reporting sexual harassment incidents, report the matter to your immediate supervisor. However, if your supervisor is the culprit, report the matter to their immediate supervisor.
Oftentimes, being a member of a union will act a strong deterrent for bad behaviour in the workplace; in case of an incident, the union can provide spokespeople and legal support on your behalf. You may also want to contact an employment lawyer yourself to get a better understanding of your legal rights.
4. Document the Harassment Episode
Document your complaint and all facts related to it. Write down what was said, when it was said and who else might have heard it as soon as the incident occurred. Failure to record the incident could result in a he-said, she-said situation. Memory has also proven unreliable in remembering factual evidence like dates, times, and exact words spoken.
Thus, it is important to document facts like sexual favour solicitations, retaliation that may have resulted as a result of a rejection of such favours, lost opportunities, and email correspondences that could strengthen your case. As a precaution, do not record details using company property. Instead, keep a notebook of your own that’s easily accessible and also have a confidant or spouse in the loop as the incidents occur.
5. Make an Administrative Charge
If efforts to file your complaint with your employer fail, file an administrative charge with the appropriate governmental agency. This can be the police, in cases of sexual assault, an employment attorney, or a government equal-employment agency. If the agency agrees that your claim is valid, you will have a right to use whichever means you prefer, including going to court.
Claims against employers can be made for past economic losses such as paying medical bills or being forced to use up your leave as you stay away from an unsafe environment. You could also lodge a claim for future economic damages such as losing your job or the inability to continue working. Claims can also be made for general damages such as mental anguish, distress, and humiliation.