Every person should have the expectation of a safe workplace. This doesn’t just include occupational hazards, but also from the people you work with. In an ideal world employees don’t get bullied or harassed by their coworkers, but as many of you (unfortunately) know from experience, having rules in place to stop that behavior doesn’t prevent some people from overstepping boundaries. When you find coworkers (or your boss) making inappropriate comments to you, you have a right to stand up for yourself.
Part of the reason why harassment continues is that the person being harassed doesn’t always know what resources are available to them, or that they might be afraid of retaliation. You are not ever alone – there are forms of recourse both within and beyond the business that exist to ensure that you are treated with the respect that you deserve. Whether it’s disparaging comments, unwanted physical contact, or sexual harassment, there are laws and rules that exist to protect you.
The following points will help you make the most of the resources that are available to you so that you can continue to work in a safe environment without stress.
1) Document every instance
If you go to HR and claim that you’ve been harassed by a coworker or superior, the first thing you’re going to be asked is if you have any evidence to back up your words. While your words are not necessarily wrong, a person cannot be disciplined or fired without evidence. Whenever an incident happens, take a note of all the details – what was said, what was done, the time, place, and date, and if there are any, all witnesses to the incident. One event or two incidents is unlikely to get the ball rolling, but a well-documented paper trail will give a substantial amount of credence to what you are saying. The more evidence you have, the more likely that you will see the harassment stop.
2) Have a mediated meeting
This will not work for repeat offenders, but there are instances where a person is not acting out of malice so much as a lack of understanding as to where appropriate boundaries lie. If the person’s harassment is physical and/or sexual in nature then you can (and probably should) escalate it further. Before that happens, you might be given the opportunity to sit down with the person harassing you and a superior and to inform them that what they are doing is wrong. Even if this doesn’t stop the behavior, it will establish on the record that they were explicitly made aware that their actions were not acceptable at work.
3) Go above them
Your bosses are not laws unto themselves. Every person is accountable to somebody else, and if your boss is not taking steps to punish the person harassing you (or worse, is the one perpetuating it), report it to the higher-ups. Reporting to HR is also an option, as either method will create awareness of the fact that there is a problem. Ensuring that the knowledge of your harassment (and possibly other people’s) is not confined to just you will make it much harder to ignore. This step relates closely to the first one; make sure you’ve established a case before you notify your boss’ boss.
4) Get the law involved
Ideally, the person responsible for harassing you will have been dealt with before it reaches this point. If you have made a case with your employer and provided sufficient evidence to bolster your claims, yet no action has been taken, you will then have recourse in the legal system. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allows you to formally file a complaint within 180 days of the incident(s) in question. This is a last-resort step: in order to have your case heard you must try to resolve it internally first.
You can also hire a lawyer to review your state’s employment laws as they relate to harassment in the workplace. If you’ve gathered enough evidence to make your case and have attempted to solve it internally first, you’ll likely have a strong case to make in court. At the very least, a lawyer will be able to give you additional information pertaining to the strength of your case as well as any additional information that will help you make your case.