First, it’s important to understand what constitutes sexual harassment. It’s easy to recognize sexual harassment when it’s a blatant unwanted sexual advance, but it becomes murky when the behaviors are subtler. “Sexual harassment includes any kind of unwanted sexual advance as well as “visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” said Toni Jaramilla, an attorney and the former chair of the California Employment Lawyers Assn. Even something like physically blocking someone from moving, if done with sexual undertones, constitutes harassment. Here’s what to do if you are sexually harassed at work.
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If you think you had been sexually harassed at work, the first line of defense is to check your company’s handbook and see how it defines sexual harassment. If what happened to you violates the policy — even if it was something “minor” — and it made you uncomfortable, you should report it, experts said.
Confront the perpetrator
Confronting the perpetrator is challenging if you are already intimidated, but it’s definitely worth a try. Boldly and confidently tell the individual that you want him or her to stop behaving or speaking to you in the manner that harassed you. Tell them if they continue to act that way, you will file an official complaint to HR and inform the management. If that stops the perpetrator from harassing you, then the case is closed. If you find speaking to that individual face to face impossible, then send a text or a letter to that person.
Document it in detail
Your best bet in building a strong case is by documenting everything in detail. In many cases, sexual harassment is a pattern. Lawyers advise people to keep a detailed written record of incidents. “Memories can fade,” said Helen Kim, an L.A.-based attorney whose firm focuses on plaintiffs’ employment law. “Make sure you have as much of the events documented as possible.” You should record what the perpetrator said (word for word is best) and the sexual advances that made you uncomfortable.
Aside from the incident, you should also include everything you can such as the date, time, location, perpetrator, and anyone who may have witnessed it. You can even go as far as recording the color of the outfits you, other people that were there, and the perpetrator were wearing. The more detailed you get, the better your chances of a successful complaint or a lawsuit if it comes to down to that. Jaramilla said a physical paper record is better than a digital one, particularly if that digital record is accessible from your work computer. If there are emails or text messages that support your claim, print them out and have backup copies.
Speak to your manager and HR
Jessica Roy of Los Angeles Times says the best person to report sexual harassment to is your human resources representative. You can also report it to your manager, or anyone in management at your company. You can go straight to the CEO if you want. They all have the same legal obligation to trigger an investigation into your claim. If you need professional help, speak to the National Human Resource Center and Women’s Aid Organization.