How to cope with sexual harassment at your workplace — The cases of sexual harassment being reported daily continues to rise. A lot of women and even men are constantly being sexually harassed at their workplaces and sadly, not much is done to tackle this issue.
Both men and women are vulnerable to sexual harassment. They can be harassed by their employers, colleagues, clients, teammates, etc. Women are predominantly the victims of sexual harassment, however, men can also be victims of sexual harassment.
The most common form of sexual harassment at workplaces is direct sexual advances. However, there are other forms of subtle sexual harassment such as your employers/colleagues throwing suggestive remarks and jokes at you. In this article, we will bring you tips on how to cope with sexual harassment at your Workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?
Sexual harassment is a form of harassment that includes unwanted physical sexual harassment, verbal harassment, or requests for sexual favors in the workplace. It is prohibited in the constitution, the Employment Equity Act (EEA), and the Labour act. The most popular types of sexual harassment at workplaces are;
1. Quid Pro Quo
This is the type of sexual harassment wherein an employer asks for sexual favors before executing work-related decisions such as work assignment, work promotion, salary raise, or even continued employment.
2. Hostile Work Environment
Hostile Work Environment is created when an employee constantly receives unwanted physical or verbal sexual actions. It becomes severe that it makes the work environment hostile, abusive, or intimidating. A hostile Work Environment changes the working conditions and affects the work performance of the victims.
Sexual harassment is not only limited to unwanted physical touching, it can also be done in the most subtle manner such as suggestive comments or jokes. It could also be the display of pornography materials.
Both Men and women are vulnerable to getting harassed at their workplaces. The perpetrator can be anyone probably your employer, colleagues, teammates, and even clients. There are also cases of same-gender sexual harassment in the workplace. Below are some examples of conduct in the workplace that could be considered sexual harassment.
- Suggestive text messages, emails, jokes, comments, etc
- Inappropriate comments about someone’s appearance
- Displaying sexually explicit or pornographic materials
- Requests for sexual favors or pressure in exchange for work-related conduct such as work promotion.
- Suggestive stories, questions, or conversation
- Stalking someone inappropriately
- Rumors about someone’s intimate life
- Inappropriate staring at people
- Use of Vulgar language
- Unwanted physical touching /contact
- Sexual assault
- Threats due to rejection of sexual advances, etc.
How To Cope With Sexual Harassment At Your Workplace
Here is how to handle sexual harassment at your workplace;
1. Confront the perpetrator
It is important to make it known that the conduct is unwanted by confronting them. Sometimes the person harassing you might be unaware that you find their actions offensive– they might feel it is harmless flirting. Also, if you don’t confront your abuser, you are indirectly encouraging such behavior. The Harasser might even think you are enjoying their actions. Therefore, it is crucial to make it clear to your harasser that you find their actions offensive and you would like them to stop. Also, make it clear that if such actions persist you would have to report it to the proper authorities. Ensure to speak firmly and show your displeasure towards such behaviors.
Note: You should only confront your harasser if you believe it is safe to do so. When you are physically harassed, we advise you to report it immediately.
2. Record or document their actions/words for evidence
If the situation persists after you confronted them, then you might begin to gather evidence to support your claims when you report them. This might be a bit difficult, but it will help prove that you were actually sexually harassed. Therefore keep all suggestive chat, text messages, pictures, letters, gifts, etc you received from the harasser.
You might also want to record every conversation you have with the harasser — you can probably use a voice recorder or your phone. You can also decide to write about sexual harassment incidents that might have occurred between you and the harasser. Write in detail without leaving any important information out. Also, you should include anybody that might have witnessed the incident. Furthermore, document the effect it had on you mentally, on your job performance, your health, etc.
3. Ascertain if you have been sexually harassed
Unfortunately, not all offensive conduct can be charged in court. Therefore it is important to talk to a lawyer or someone who knows about sexual harassment laws, this is to ascertain if you have been sexually harassed. The lawyer could also counsel you on how to navigate the situation (such as reporting the situation, getting evidence of the harassment, how to retain your job, etc).
4. Don’t quit your job
Don’t be in a hurry to resign from your job if you are being sexually harassed by a colleague, superior, or teammate. Sexual harassment is a crime that is punishable by law. While we advise that you don’t quit your job immediately, you should also not condone a sexually hostile work environment. You should go through the right procedure for reporting the situation while doing your job the best way you can. Sexual harassment can affect your job performance and could emotional damage, therefore you shouldn’t be silent about it.
5. Report the conduct
Most well-coordinated organizations give their employees handbooks that outline the procedures to follow when they want to make a complaint about a colleague or even a superior. Find those laid down steps and follow them to report your harasser. You have to ensure that the Human resources department and your supervisor are aware of the situation.
When making your report, ensure to attach all the pieces of evidence you have gathered. This evidence will support your claim and might lead to prompt actions from the right authorities. Yes, reporting sexual harassment could be embarrassing, but it allows your employer to address the problem.
6. Monitor the progress of your case
After going through the proper procedure of reporting your harasser, the next step on how to cope with sexual harassment in the workplace is to monitor the progress. Has the perpetrator been addressed? Are there any changes? Is the person still harassing you? Or did it get worse? The answers to these questions will determine your next action.
Meanwhile, if the person has stopped harassing you, that’s great. However, if it persists, you should lay a complaint with the Human resources department. The possible actions the company might take against your harasser include;
- Transferring you or your harasser
- Issuing a warning to the perpetrator
- Taking some form of disciplinary action against the harasser
- Ensuring the harasser goes through training on the proper conduct in the workplace.
- Dismissal of the harasser to prevent future occurrences.
7. Quit your job
If after following all the laid down steps above and it failed, unfortunately, the next step is to quit the job. You should not have to condone working in a hostile environment where you are continuously harassed and oppressed.
However, you can sue the company or the harasser if you are forced to resign. Seek legal assistance from a professional who is knowledgeable about sexual harassment and other related cases to help you. If the harasser is found guilty, the court can provide solutions such as compensatory damages, punitive charges, hiring or reinstatement (if you were forced to resign), promotion, etc.
How To Prevent Sexual Harassment At A Workplace
Having looked at how to cope with sexual harassment at a workplace, let us look at how you can prevent sexual harassment at a workplace as an employer.
- Regularly organize training on the dangers of sexual harassment
- Create a positive work environment
By creating a positive work environment, you can greatly reduce the tendency of sexual harassment. A positive work environment would create an effective work culture that does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment or other related cases.
- Encourage open communication and ensure all your employees can openly converse with the management
- Encourage your employees to report all incidents of sexual harassment to the proper authorities.
- Ensure to hold employees that engage in sexual harassment accountable for their actions. You should also ensure the perpetrator faces disciplinary charges.
- The company should have an organized system for tackling cases of sexual harassment.
- The company should regularly update the firm’s sexual harassment policy. This is to ensure that it aligns with the current laws and regulations.
Above are a few tips on how to prevent sexual harassment at your workplace.
Being harassed sexually at your workplace is one of the most uncomfortable situations to be in. It can affect your productivity and slow your work input. It can also affect you mentally and lead to a hostile work environment. Above is a comprehensive guide on how to cope with sexual harassment at your workplace to help you. Meanwhile, you should never have to condone sexual harassment, ensure to report it to the appropriate authorities for prompt disciplinary actions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some examples of sexual harassment in the workplace?
Some examples of sexual harassment at a workplace include physical sexual assaults, suggestive remarks about one’s appearance, inappropriate jokes or stories, etc.
Should I stay quiet when my manager sexually harasses me?
No, you shouldn’t stay quiet. When you keep quiet, the sexual harassment continues. Therefore, you should complain to the proper authorities tackling sexual harassment cases at the company.
What should I do if my sexual harassment complaint is ignored?
If your company ignores or dismisses your sexual harassment complaint, you should seek legal assistance. Speak to an attorney to help you navigate the situation.