Even in our enlightened day and age, many women frequently encounter cases of sexual harassment while at work. Adding to these woes is also a growing awareness of the fact that sexual harassment is also not solely a woman’s issue – men have also started to grow more forthcoming about cases where they were treated indecently at work by a boss or coworker.
While relaxed, jovial banter is often a hallmark of a good work environment; this goes beyond mere camaraderie between people who spent most of the working week together. In these cases, the attention is unwanted, consistent, and makes it harder for the recipient to work effectively or happily.
When this happens, it can be hard to know how to respond. On one hand there’s the sense of violation and disrespect, while on the other there’s also the desire to fit in and not rock the boat. But the fact remains that no one should have to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, and that there’s no way to justify running roughshod over a co-worker’s feelings and sense of dignity.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment takes many forms, and some are more obvious than others. Whether verbal or physical, discrete or obtuse, it’s not something you have to put up with. But for many, it can be hard to admit that this is going on, and too many will end up rationalizing these behaviors as being simply break-room japes and hijinks. So how do you know?
It makes you uncomfortable. Everyone else may be laughing or grinning, but inside you feel as though you’re suddenly only an inch off the ground. Whatever the joke may be, you’re not laughing. You may feel angry, scared, belittled, or even just helpless and vulnerable.
It’s consistent. That slap on the backside probably wasn’t the first one you’ve received from that individual. You might have an entire folder full of unwanted invitations for coffee. Once again, a co-worker has dismissed your concerns as being “that time of the month.” You’ve had to experience a joke about your sexuality for the umpteenth time running, and the punchline has been you for far too long.
Unwanted, excessive, and insistent sexualization. This can be anything from co-workers asking for sexual favors in exchange for something, to lewd and obscene gestures, to unwanted physical contact.
What Can You Do?
There are a number of actions you can take when faced with sexual harassment while at work. The most important thing, however, is to take a stand. There is no reason for you to accept this sort of mistreatment, and you are entitled to better conduct, no matter who you are.
Take it up with a superior. If the behavior doesn’t change, take it up with your leadership and human resources department. There is no such thing as a “tattle-tale” in these matters — you are simply entitled to a certain standard of behavior. Your employer is legally responsible for ensuring you are not subject to anything less, and will likely take steps at once to address any harassment you bring to their attention.
Make sure to keep HR in the loop on the issue. They can provide you with expert knowledge on how to properly approach sexual harassment, as well prove you with options you can take if you need to take the matter further. If your supervisor refuses to act, they will know what the next step is in your organizational hierarchy.
Gather evidence. Try to gather as much evidence as you can of the harassment. Witness statements, audio and video recordings, written statements listing examples of your harassment are all crucial to your complaint, and especially to any legal action you may be required to take. Ensure that you also include the dates, times, and locations of each incident. Find out if this has been happening to anyone else or if similar complaints have been made in the past.
File a complaint with the Florida Department of Human Relations. This department will investigate sexual harassment cases in Florida and will be the first step to filing a lawsuit after they have made a determination.
Take the matter to court. In cases where your workplace refuses to act upon a case of sexual harassment at work, or extreme cases where you have already suffered physical or emotional harm, you may be entitled to damages from your experiences.