Sexual harassment and misconduct are serious and pervasive issues, including in the workplace.
Employees who are victimized can feel threatened and unsafe and be forced to make a choice between their livelihood and their safety. That is a choice no one should have to make.
Today, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create workplaces where sexual harassment and misconduct are not tolerated. First, we must gain a better understanding about what behaviors constitute sexual harassment and misconduct so we can step in and speak out to help those who are mistreated.
About half of Americans still don’t recognize that “unwanted verbal remarks that are provocative or unsolicited” can be threatening or harassing.
We must hold those who inflict harm accountable regardless of their power, fame, talents or influence, keeping the needs of survivors central. Often, offenders are our co-workers, friends and family — folks we know, love and trust. Though difficult to accept, we must understand that they may do positive things at work, home or in our community while also behaving in abusive and harmful ways.
Movements like the #MeToo campaign, where victims are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media, have increased awareness and understanding.
But we know many others suffer in silence.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, help is available. Counselors at YWCA Carlisle’s Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Services of Cumberland County are trained to assist you and provide support (the center’s hotline: 1-888-727-2877 or 717-258-4324).
These six tips can help:
1. Do what works for you. Each person’s experience and situation is different. Seek support from someone you trust — at work or in your personal life — and know you are not alone. A rape crisis counselor can help you identify and consider options.
2. Tell the offender to stop — if you feel safe doing so, tell them face-to-face or in writing. Be specific about the behavior that is bothering you, and tell them that you don’t like it and you want them to stop.
3. Save records. Keep a journal of every incident of harassment, including what happened, where, when and who was there. Save harassing notes, emails or pictures. Keep notes and copies of any communication you have about the harassment. Also keep performance reviews or other records that mention the quality of your work. For privacy and safety, you may want to keep these files at home.
4. Know your rights. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination of many forms and requires employers to promptly investigate all complaints and take action to fix the situation if they find that sexual harassment has occurred. They are also required to keep sexual harassment complaints confidential, although they will likely interview the person harassing you and any witnesses. It is illegal for an employer to punish you for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment.
5. Read your company’s policy on sexual harassment. Check your employee handbook or personnel policies for details on filing a sexual harassment complaint. If you are part of a union, ask your union representative about grievance procedures.
6. Report it — if you feel safe, tell your supervisor or someone else listed in your company’s sexual harassment policy. It can be helpful to make this report in writing. Be specific about what happened, steps you have taken to address it and how you want your employer to fix the problem.
You can also contact local law enforcement or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for more information about your legal rights and options. You have a right to file a complaint with these agencies if you believe you have been sexually harassed at work. In most cases, you have 180 days to file a complaint, although federal and state employees may have as little as 30 days.
Employers should ensure their policies and procedures are up to date and should meet with staff to reinforce expectations of behavior in the workplace. Empower frontline supervisors and mid-level managers to enforce those policies and quickly reprimand violations with responses that are on par with the seriousness of the violation.
Addressing lower-level problems such as crass comments and jokes helps to ensure the environment does not erode into one where problematic staff may escalate to more threatening acts such as inappropriate touching.
The effects of sexual harassment can be serious for victims, their co-workers and family. If it happens to you or someone you know, remember: It is not your fault. And you do have rights and options.
There is help available. The best way to stop sexual harassment in the workplace is to set standards of behavior and a companywide expectation that employees look out for the well-being of each other and the company’s work environment.
This requires every employer and co-worker to take this issue seriously — not just from a liability standpoint, but because it is the right thing to do and benefits the entire workplace community. Together, we can end sexual violence.
Delilah Rumburg is CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.