Whether it was falling victim to an innocent gesture that spiraled terribly out of control or being aggressively pursued by a co-worker when the feelings were not mutual, countless employees have at one time or another fallen victim to sexual harassment.
According to data for the year 2010 from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers who were unable to protect their businesses from sexual harassment claims placed with the agency recovered damages with settlements totaling more than $48.4 million.
While the majority of employers remind a new worker when they are hired that such actions will not be tolerated, the subject still rears its ugly head more often than not.
In the event you’ve been a victim of such actions in the past or think you are currently being harassed at work, what have you done about it? More often than not, the unfortunate answer is not much.
Even though men can and have been the victims of sexual aggressions in the workplace, the majority of times it is women who are targeted, oftentimes by their male co-workers or a boss. While the right thing to do is to discourage the advances, many women will find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Do they speak up and risk losing their job or do they brush the matter under the rug in hopes it will go away?
If you have found yourself the victim of such unwanted aggressions in the workplace, what should you do?
Among the types of sexual harassment that abusers can try to get away with include:
- Offensive and belittling comments such as the way someone is dressed, their facial appearance, i.e. makeup, hair, jewelry etc.;
- Photos in the work environment showing women in offensive clothing or poses, i.e. swimsuit calendars, magazines, etc.;
- Direct hostility from another co-worker due to the fact one is female, i.e. jealous because a woman was promoted and/or received a raise over a male co-worker;
- An actual sexual assault on workplace property, i.e. inappropriate touching and feeling, invading someone’s space and comfort zone.
For those women and men who feel they have fallen victim to sexual harassment in the workplace, there are actions they can take to report and hopefully curtail such activities from happening again. They include:
- Confronting the abuser directly and inform them that their actions are offensive and need to stop. If they fail to stop, you will pursue the matter with the individual’s supervisor;
- Contacting a supervisor and report the situation, providing as much detail as possible to support the claim/s. When choosing this route, try and provide any evidence such as statements, written documents, photos etc.;
- In the event a supervisor proves not to be of assistance, go to his or her superior and broach the subject with them. Do not get discouraged if one person does not want to pursue the matter, keep fighting;
- Don’t fear for the loss of your employment by reporting the alleged perpetrator. There are protections in place tied to reporting such matters, although it is natural to think that you could be putting your job in jeopardy;
- In case those highest up in the company choose not to address the matter, look to outside help from an agency in place to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.
While it can be intimidating at times to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, letting sexual harassment actions go unpunished is not only a crime, but a knock against the many hard-working women (and men in cases where they are harassed) that choose to take a stand.