Harassment at Work
Unfortunately, abuse is also prevalent in work environments. According to one study, one in three women ages 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work. 25% of those women were harassed online via texts or emails, yet 71% of these women did not report it.
We can only speculate the reasons for this, but one could be because sexual harassment is not clearly defined.
However, some examples of sexual harassment include:
- Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos.
- Sending letters, texts, or emails with suggestive content.
- Telling lewd jokes or sexual anecdotes.
But even these are ambiguous! If someone sends a picture of their genitalia it is clearly sexual harassment, but an off-hand comment could be misconstrued.
So, how do you know it’s sexual harassment?
For those moments where you’re not sure, think about how you feel. Did that comment make you uncomfortable? Is there something off-putting about it? If yes, chances are there’s an underlying tone that should be considered sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment at Work
Sexual harassment comes in different forms, and when it’s online it’s often even less obvious. Yet, it still happens. If you’re in a professional situation where you feel uncomfortable, you should immediately start recording it. Often larger cases are built on a pattern of small incidents, which, if not documented properly, won’t be useful as evidence.
Even if you’re not sure if an encounter counts as harassment, it’s better to treat it as such just in case the situation gets worse and you decide to eventually take action.
Sexual harassemnt in the workplace.How to Report Harassment at Work
1. Document Every Encounter
Any comment, inappropriate email, or other correspondence that can possibly qualify as harassment should be recorded and stored somewhere where only you have access to it (not on the company’s Google Drive, for instance). It could be that one comment was unintentional, but if it happens again, you’ll be able to build a case.
If an encounter involves something said verbally or inappropriate touching, as soon as possible, write yourself an email (from your personal account) describing the incident in as much detail as you can. Include the time, date, and location of the incident.
2. Monitor the Situation
Take screenshots, record times and dates, save emails, and keep a file of everything that makes you uncomfortable.
3. Report It
Once you have evidence, it’s time to file a report. While it is sometimes uncomfortable, reporting harassment in the office is one of the most productive ways you can stop it.
Send your evidence to the HR department, which hopefully already has a policy in place as to how to proceed. If there is no HR at your company, then you should construct a well-informed email and send it to office management or to your manager (as long as they are not the one harassing you).
How to Write an Email to Report Sexual Harassment:
It can seem daunting to construct that first email. For this reason, we included a template for you to use.
Subject line: Official complaint of sexual harassment
Dear [HR] and [boss],
I am writing this email to notify you that [name of harasser] has been sexually harassing me for the past [x amount of time].
The following incidents have occured during that time:
- [Example 1: Describe what happened and when. Try to include as many facts as possible. ]
- [Example 2: Describe the second incident that made you feel uncomfortable. Remember to include if you told anyone else at work about it.]
- [Example 3: Attach any documents or evidence that will support your case.]
[If applicable, include what actions you believe the company should take. For instance, you can write, “I would like to be transferred to a different department” or “I would like this matter to be looked into, and I would like a formal apology from [name of harasser].”]
Thank you for looking into this matter. Should you need any more information, I am happy to provide it.
Your office should have a policy on how to assess the situation and take action.
If you don’t feel as though your complaint was adequately addressed, remember that you can always seek outside legal counsel. A professional well-versed in the laws in your area should be able to guide you in your next steps.
We should also note that for many, reporting the incident internally is not an option, as many women freelance or are self-employed. In this scenario, you need to take the situation into your own hands.
Sexual Harassment if You’re Self-Employed
If you’re self-employed and experience an inappropriate encounter, since there’s no one to report to, you need to take care of the situation yourself.
This is exactly what happened to Ariel*, a musician who received sexually charged messages from another professional in her industry. After commenting on the way she shakes while playing music, Ariel responded “don’t be an ass” to which the harasser responded “Oh, I love the way you talk.”
While Ariel decided not to publicly shame him, she did respond that his comments were suggestive and aggressive. The harasser disagreed and left it at that.
Ariel found it empowering to confront the harasser head on. Others may find that the best method of self-preservation is to ignore the harassers. There’s no right or wrong way to address harassment in this scenario. It is your decision.
If you would like more advice on this subject you can have a look at our resources here.
Be Female Team