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What Do You Do if You Are Being Harassed at Work?

August 31, 2023 Employment Law

Harassment in the workplace consists of unwanted behavior directed at you because of a protected characteristic such as your religion, ethnicity, or gender. Isolated incidents do not qualify as harassment. Instead, it must be repeated or ongoing and pervasive, and the conduct must be offensive, abusive, intimidating, or hostile. Here are some common examples of conduct that could be considered harassment: 

  • Threats of physical harm
  • Derogatory comments
  • Offensive jokes or humor
  • Inappropriate gestures, symbols, or signs
  • Ridicule

Identifying harassment is one thing – knowing what to do to protect your rights is another. If you are experiencing harassment in the workplace, a knowledgeable employment harassment lawyer can provide you with valuable guidance. 

Make it Clear That the Conduct is Unwelcome

While harassment can be overt, it can also be subtle. Harassers often know where the line is and will be careful not to say or do anything that is obviously inappropriate. While a single comment or action may not clearly cross the line, the overall pattern of conduct can still qualify as harassment. Unfortunately, harassers will try to argue that they “were only joking” and the employee “didn’t seem to mind” or “knew it was a joke.” This can be especially problematic if you otherwise have a functional working relationship with your harasser. 

This situation can be avoided by making it clear that the conduct is unwelcome. We understand how difficult this can be, particularly when the person who is harassing you is your supervisor or otherwise in a position of authority. Here are some suggestions for how to handle what can be a very difficult situation: 

  • Confide in a coworker that you trust and who can help. Explain what is happening and that it makes you uncomfortable. Ask them if they would be willing to support you in stopping the harassment, either by serving as a witness or providing a statement at a later time if necessary. 
  • You do not have to respond in the heat of the moment. There is nothing wrong with waiting until later to speak with your harasser privately. Consider asking your coworker you confided in to serve as a witness. Consider using language focused on resolving the situation amicably, such as “When you say/do x, y, and z it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and I am asking you to stop.” 
  • Responding out of anger is okay, too. Sometimes people snap in response to harassment. While you may say something regrettable, you have made it crystal clear that the conduct is unwelcome. In this situation, the best thing to do is jot down the date and time that the incident occurred and the names of anyone who may be able to serve as a witness. 
  • You can make it known in writing. An email or text message sent to your harasser can also be perfectly adequate. Make sure you keep a copy for your records. 

We recognize that these suggestions fall under the category of “easier said than done.” If you are in a difficult situation with no viable options, contact an employment harassment lawyer to discuss your options. 

Report the Harassment

In most harassment claims, the employee is attempting to hold the employer liable for harassment by another employee. This can only happen if the employer is made aware of the harassment. 

The first thing to do is to check your employee manual to see if your employer has a harassment policy. If it does, you need to follow the complaint procedure to the letter when filing your complaint. Otherwise, your employer will argue that they were unaware of the complaint and could not respond appropriately because it was not appropriately filed. In many situations, this argument is not valid, but following the procedure as laid out in the harassment policy gives you the best chance of resolving the issue. 

You should probably report your harassment to HR if your employer does not have a harassment policy. You can do this via email or in person, but you should consider requesting an in-person meeting with your HR representative if you inform them via email. You want to make sure that they understand the seriousness of the problem and that you expect it to be resolved. Ask them what steps you need to take moving forward and what steps they will be taking and when. Keep notes concerning what was discussed and the dates and times that any meetings occurred. 

Of course, many employers do not have an HR department. The harasser may be your direct supervisor or someone else who is in a position of authority. These can be very difficult situations. If you do not know how to report the harassment or who it needs to be reported to, an employment harassment attorney can help. 

 Document the Harassment

One of the challenges of harassment cases is proving that the harassment occurred. The more detail you have, the stronger your claim will be. Because your memories can fade over time, we recommend that you keep a journal that details the harassment you are experiencing: 

  • Note the date, time, and place that specific incidents occurred
  • Note the nature of the conduct (whether it was verbal, a gesture, or something else that made you feel uncomfortable) and who was involved
  • Note the names of anyone else who was present who may be able to corroborate that the harassment occurred

Record as many specific details as possible – it will not only help you remember the specific incidents, but it will give credibility to your claim. 

Are You Being Harassed at Work? Contact Attorneys for Employees Today

You deserve better. At Attorneys for Employees, we empower workers by holding their employers accountable. Stand up for your rights and the rights of others by taking action. 

Contact us today by completing our online contact form to schedule a consultation to discuss how we can help you get free from harassment.