How to cope with sexual harassment in the workplace

Susanna Kahr

Recent public scandals have highlighted the incidence of sexual harassment in all types of industries and jobs. This form of workplace harassment is becoming sadly commonplace and requires immediate response by both the victim and the business to ensure that the company remains a safe place for all workers. According to LegalZoom, up to 85 percent of women have been the victim of some form of sexual harassment at work, but the majority never file complaints or confront their harassers.

Being able to identify sexual harassment can help you stay safe in the workplace; learning more about harassment and the different forms it takes ensures you know what to do if you or someone else in your workplace is victimized.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a direct violation of the Civil Rights Act, and comes in two distinct forms:

Employment Decisions: If you are refused a position you are otherwise qualified for, miss out on a raise or are otherwise sanctioned after turning someone down sexually, this is a form of harassment. If someone indicates that the way to get a promotion, job or perk is to submit to their advances, this is a form of sexual harassment.

This can happen to men or women and can occur in any workplace or setting. This form is often more easily recognized and defined, since there is a clearly defined transactional quality to the interactions.

Hostile Workplace: The other, less easily defined form of sexual harassment is equally prevalent and illegal; behavior by a boss, coworker or group that makes the victim feel uncomfortable falls into this category. Sexual comments, jokes, conduct and other incidents are all included in this type of harassment, and can often be ongoing patterns of behavior, instead of sole incidents.

You are not alone

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is not an isolated case. On kununu, one of the world’s biggest employer rating platforms, people share their experiences on this topic:


How far is too far?

The type of harassment that makes for an uncomfortable and hostile workplace is more difficult to define – when is something an innocent compliment or remark, and when it is offensive? If someone’s behavior or comments to you are making you uncomfortable, you should reach out to someone for help. In many cases, this can be an ongoing pattern of behavior, but no one wants to label it for what it is. Write down the details of a troublesome event or conversation so you remember it clearly and can examine it more closely.

If you find yourself avoiding the person in question, skipping out on social gatherings at work or even on meetings or dreading interactions with them, then the behavior is troubling enough to warrant a conversation.The bottom line is that if you are feeling uncomfortable about someone’s interest or behavior, you have the right to speak up. You should also be able to expect a safe, harassment free place to work.

What to do if you are being harassed

The increased focus on sexual harassment in all industries has led to brands taking this topic and the potential for harassment at work very seriously. If you are being harassed or have concerns, you should refer to your own brand’s guidelines on harassment. In many companies, there is a clearly defined policy and procedure that is designed to help you and to ensure that you can work in a safe environment.

The presence of a policy is also a good thing for those who are well-intentioned but are inadvertently making others feel uncomfortable; management may be able to have a conversation, offer additional training or let them know their attention is misdirected. For those who willingly and deliberately harass others, a clear policy allows for immediate action and the protection of all employees and potential victims. Following your own brand’s guidelines is an ideal first step, since the problem can be investigated in detail and observed by others. If you have a mentor or trusted person who is not employed by the same organization, but can give you an objective opinion, that can also help you determine next steps and the ideal approach.

Since sexual harassment has some subjective qualities in some cases (if someone physically strikes you, it is clearly assault, but someone crossing a line into sexual harassment may look different for different employees. It is important to note that an employee who is victimizing you may be victimizing others – and reporting things that make you uncomfortable can protect others from the same treatment.

Sexual harassment is one of the most difficult situations you can deal with; looking for patterns, defining why someone is making you feel uncomfortable and writing down your concerns can help you determine what to do next. Each situation is unique, but you have the right to work without being harassed and without suffering repercussions for reporting harassment. Understanding the different types of harassment and knowing what steps to take to determine what is making you uncomfortable can help you enjoy a safe and reasonable workplace.



Watch out: In November kununu will host a new episode of its #WorkLifeChat on twitter, discussing sexual harassment with those affected or interested in the topic. 


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