As soon as you have an inkling that what you are experiencing may be harassment, start documenting incidents.
The boss is coming on to you. You do want to be promoted, don’t you?
Your co-worker won’t take no for an answer when it comes to drinks after work. And why is it that your supervisor can’t seem to pass you in the corridor without brushing against your breasts?
Every day is a fresh headline. Sen. Al Franken. Comedian Louis C.K. Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore. Those are the high-profile cases, but what should you do if the harassment is happening to you?
Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, has this advice:
As soon as you have an inkling that what you are experiencing may be harassment, start documenting incidents. Write a memo to yourself, with dates, times, and descriptions of what happened. Were there any witnesses? Make a note of them. Save hard copies of emails, texts and tweets. Transcribe voice mails and date them.
Don’t go it alone. “So many people are suffering in silence, and that’s a lot to carry around,” Raghu said. Before you decide to take any action, talk the incidents over with trusted friends, family members, and, if possible, trusted co-workers. Gain their perspective and their emotional support. You also might uncover helpful information about a serial harasser at work.
Sometimes, stopping the harassment may be as simple as telling the person to knock it off. But that, too, has its risks. Rehearse your actions, consider the possible consequences, and most important, make sure you physically safe — a key consideration in workplaces such as factories and warehouses, or when people work shifts when there are fewer co-workers in the vicinity.
Before you complain, do research. Does your company have a policy? What is the reporting procedure? What are the potential outcomes? Does it say anything about retribution?
As you prepare to complain, “think of what outcome you’d like,” Raghu said. “Most people simply want the harassment to stop and to get on with their jobs.” This is another time to talk over strategies with friends, family and trusted co-workers.
Longtime Philadelphia employment lawyer Alice Ballard said in an interview that the human resources department “is not your friend,” because it is charged with protecting the interests of the company. Friend or not, Raghu said, HR is the place to start. Because of the way the law has developed, it’s important to show that the proper procedures were followed, even before contacting agencies such as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If you are considering litigation, mentally and financially prepare yourself for a long haul with no guarantee of success. You may be counting on a settlement, but there’s no guarantee of that either.