How To Handle Sexual Harassment At Work

Have you ever been sexually harassed at work? You’re not alone. One third of women who responded to a Cosmo poll said they had been sexually harassed at work, while 60% of women working in the tech industry said they have been sexually harassed.

In the hopes of arming you with the tools you need to handle sexual harassment at work, we’ve created a guide. 

  1. What exactly is sexual harassment? Sexual harassment is any sort of unwanted physical contact (hugging, touching, kissing or grabbing, for example), requests for sexual contact or obscene comments. Anything from a lewd story about sex your coworker tells in the lunchroom to emails displaying pornography are sexual harassment. Beyond that, questions about sexual history, sexual orientation or gender identity can be sexual harassment. 

    There are two basic types of sexual harassment in the workplace. The first is “quid pro quo,” which means that a coworker asks for a sexual favor in return for a promotion, a raise or a piece of information that could help you get ahead at work. The second is “hostile work environment” harassment. This refers to the “hostile” work environment created when coworkers or managers engage in the conduct described above.
  2. What should I do if it happens to me? First and foremost, tell your coworker or manager to stop. While it certainly is their fault that the harassment is taking place, they need to know it’s a problem. Once you’ve told your manager or coworker to stop, be sure to document the incident by writing down the date and time and what happened, in case it continues to occur.
  3. What if they don’t stop? Continue to tell them to stop in a firm voice. Additionally, send an email to that coworker or manager, telling them to stop once again. Write down each incident. Once this all has occurred, bring the complaint to the human resources department. Most companies have a strict no sexual harassment policy and the human resources department will be able to take action. 
  4. What if my office doesn’t have a human resources department? Sometimes a company has an outsourced HR department. If that’s the case, send a complaint their way via email or give them a call. If not, take it to your manager. If it’s your manager perpetrating the harassment, take it to their manager.
  5. What if I’m a freelancer or a contractor? As a freelancer, it can be difficult to handle unwanted advances from clients. Definitely continue to tell the person “no” in a firm voice. Do your best to stay away from one-on-one situations and document every incident. If you have a manager, take the complaint to them. Beyond that, though, be OK with walking away from the situation. Some clients, unfortunately, are not worth the trouble.
  6. How can I tackle this from a legal perspective? You can file a charge of discrimination! Thanks to Title VII, you can not be discriminated against based on your sex. You must file a complaint within 180 days of the incident occurring, so make sure to act relatively quickly. If you do file a complaint, you may have to go through mediation, where you and your harasser have to sit down to discuss the incident. Here is where you can file a complaint.
  7. Where can I find support? We love He Said Whaaat? as a place to air our grievances against the shitty people in our workplaces. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #21

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