If you feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or discriminated against at work, you might be experiencing workplace harassment. Unfortunately, many employees are afraid to speak up out of fear that they will lose their jobs. It is important to recognize the signs and to take action if you suspect you are being harassed, as fostering a respectful and inclusive work environment is essential for you and the well-being of all employees. Here we explore the various forms of harassment, how to recognize it and what to do about it if you think you are being harassed.
Understanding Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment refers to any unwelcome or offensive behavior, verbal or non-verbal, that creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. It comes in many forms, such as offensive jokes, insults, unwelcome advances, isolation, or unfair treatment. Here are the most common forms for harassment:
- Verbal Harassment: This includes offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling, derogatory remarks, or any other hurtful language directed towards you or a group.
- Physical Harassment: Any unwanted physical contact, such as touching, hitting, or gestures, that cause discomfort or harm to you.
- Sexual Harassment: Inappropriate sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any other verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with your work or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
- Bullying: Repeated mistreatment, humiliation, or intimidation with the intention of undermining your confidence and well-being.
- Cyberbullying: Harassment that occurs through digital means, such as emails, messages, social media, or online forums.
- Discrimination: Treating you unfairly or differentially based on your protected characteristics, leading to a hostile work environment.
- Retaliation: Punishing or intimidating you for reporting harassment or participating in investigations related to harassment.
Harassment vs Normal Workplace Conflicts
To tell the difference between harassment and a normal workplace conflict, you need to look at the intent and whether there is repetitive behavior. With harassment, the intent is to create a hostile or offensive work environment. In a workplace conflict, the intent is not to demean or harm others but to resolve differences or address issues related to work tasks or responsibilities. Also, a workplace conflict is generally situational and does not usually recur consistently. Harassment is often characterized by repeated behavior.
What To Do If You Are Harassed
If you feel that you are being harassed, keep a record of any incidents, including dates, times, locations, people involved, and details of what happened. This includes any emails, letters, video footage, recordings and items. Also keep track of any people that may have witnessed the harassment. This documentation can be crucial if you decide to report the harassment.
Talk to the Harasser
Talk to the harasser only if appropriate and not dangerous or uncomfortable. Approach the harasser constructively and address the issue. Explain the situation and how it makes you feel. This surprisingly might resolve the situation. If you have already done this or if it does not resolve the situation, document any conversation and review company policies and legal remedies (as described below).
Review Company Policies and Report the Harassment
Most workplaces have internal policies and procedures for reporting harassment. Victims of work harassment should follow these procedures and report the incidents to their supervisor, human resources department, or designated authority within the organization. If your company does not have a policy on harassment, report the harassment by writing a formal letter to the appropriate authority in the organization.
Cooperate with Internal Investigations
If your company initiates an internal investigation, be prepared to provide additional information and cooperate with the investigation process. This step is very important to resolving your situation and to obtain any legal remedy. Every investigation takes some time, but if you feel that it is taking an unreasonable amount of time and not making any progress, speak with an attorney.
File a Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
If your employer does not address the harassment or if the harassment is based on a protected characteristic (e.g., race, gender, religion, etc.), you can file a formal complaint with the EEOC, the federal agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.
Consult an Attorney
If the internal complaint process does not result in a satisfactory resolution or if you experience retaliation for making the complaint, consider consulting an employment attorney who specializes in harassment cases. They can provide guidance on your rights and legal options.
If you suspect that you are being harassed, take action. Follow the steps as listed above, and when in doubt, contact an employment attorney.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. It provides general information and is not intended and should not be construed as professional advice. The author is not your attorney, accountant, financial planner or any other professional and no professional-client relationship is created. We do not represent that the information provided is accurate or up-to-date as laws and regulations are always changing. If you have an issue that requires professional help, you should contact the appropriate professional to help you on your specific set of facts. Please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information.