This month, it's been Harvey Weinstein and Roy Price in the headlines. Not long ago, it was Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and numerous other Fox News staffers, and before that it was Bill Cosby.
When someone famous is caught in the act of harassment, it gets people's attention. But most harassment stories--especially workplace harassment--never make it to the headlines. They're all too common, and they've been around for a long time.
Harassment is any verbal or physical badgering based on sex, religion, or race. It's not only inappropriate and immoral but also an unlawful form of discrimination.
Harassing conduct may include offensive jokes, slurs, name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule, insults, offensive pictures, and other behavior. Sexual harassment includes any uninvited comments, conduct, or behavior regarding sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
Ninety percent of workplace harassment is never officially reported. But what happens when you want to do something about it? Here are 10 important tips for dealing with the harassment effectively:
1. Make use of resources.
The first step is to check your company's employee handbook. Your company may have an Equal Employment Opportunity officer or another way for you to file an internal complaint. If not, you can contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to speak with a counselor about your legal rights, whether you choose to file a complaint or not.
2. Report it.
Report any instance of harassment immediately. Your employer must know or have reason to know about the harassment to be legally responsible. Tell your supervisor, someone in human resources, or the person within your organization who is designated to deal with harassment. If there is a policy for employees to follow when reporting harassment, read through it ahead of time and make sure you follow it as closely as possible. Either file your report in writing or, if it is made in a meeting, follow up with a written summary. Keep a copy of any written complaint you make to your employer and anything you receive from them.
3. Write it down.
As soon as you experience any act of harassment, write down exactly what happened. Be as specific as possible, recording dates, places, times, and possible witnesses. When you report, write down whom you reported to, what that person said, and what happened in response. Others may read this written record at some point, so be as accurate and objective as possible. Do not keep the record at work, but at home or in some other safe place where you will have access to it in case something suddenly happens at work.
4. Band together with co-workers.
If you are not the only employee to experience harassment, ask co-workers to also write down and report their own incidents. If you're not comfortable doing that, mention when you report that you believe others have been harassed.
5. Keep your own records.
Especially if you're being harassed by a supervisor, your harasser may try to defend him- or herself by attacking your job performance. Keep copies of any records of your work performance, including performance evaluations and any memos or letters documenting the quality of your work. If you do not have copies, try to gather them (by legitimate means only). If company policy permits, review your personnel file. When you do, either make copies of relevant documents or, if that's not allowed, take detailed notes. As with your documentation of your harassment, keep everything at home, not at your workplace or on a company computer.
6. Get witnesses.
If you can do so safely, talk to other people at work who may have witnessed your harassment. You may find witnesses, allies, or others who have been harassed by the same person or who would be willing to support your case.
7. Gather information.
Map out the important people and situations to investigate in the initial complaint. Basically, provide the investigating office with everything they need to conduct the investigation, based on current knowledge.
8. Consider filing with the EEOC.
Especially if you're mistrustful of your organization's process, you can help ensure your safety and a greater chance of action by filing a charge of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Filing with the EEOC is required before you can sue your employer, if it comes to that. Time limits apply--usually 180 days from the discriminatory act.
9. Don't be thrown.
Difficult as it may be, try not to be sidetracked by the harassment issues. Keep doing good work, and keep maintaining meticulous records of your performance as well as the harassment and any action against it.
10. Ask for support from your friends and family.
Harassment and its aftermath are difficult to go through. Tell supportive friends, family members, and colleagues about the abuse. Talking with others about the harassment can give you much-needed support and help you clarify and process everything that's happened--which in turn may help your company investigation or legal case. You don't need to feel alone.
If you suspect someone else is being harassed, let the person know of your support and encourage him or her to take these steps. Don't allow anyone to dismiss harassment as harmless or as part of the company climate. Standing up to workplace harassment is everyone's responsibility.