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How to Stop a Harassing Co-Worker

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The federal government defines harassment at work as "unwelcome conduct" based on such factors as your race, color, religion, pregnancy status, gender, age or disability. Harassment can include racial slurs, interference with work and outright physical assault. Even bullying that falls short of breaking federal law can make your work life miserable. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends taking action against the harasser as soon as possible.

Write It Down

You don't have to be the victim of harassment to report it. Anyone who feels affected by the harasser's actions, not just the target, has grounds for complaint. A report on the Washington state government website recommends that if you decide to take action, document everything. After an incident, write down the time and place. Record what the harasser said or did, and list any witnesses.

Say Something

Keeping silent in the face of consistent harassment won't improve things. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends telling the harasser directly that his actions are objectionable. The Nolo legal website says this is important because if you have to sue at a later date, you need to show you tried to stop the harasser's actions. Telling the harasser how you feel makes it harder for her to claim she thought her words or acts were harmless.

File a Complaint

If telling the harasser doesn't convince him to stop, the EEOC recommends reporting the incidents to your employer. Once the company knows an employee is being harassed, it has an obligation to investigate. First, though, review your company's policy in the employee handbook or ask HR about the complaint procedure. Follow the directions for making harassment complaints to the letter. Document that you've done so. This will bolster your case if the issue goes to court.

Go to Court

You can file suit under federal law if your employer doesn't stop the harassment. First, however, you have to file an administrative charge with the EEOC. The EEOC may dismiss your claim, ask you and your employer to enter mediation, or issue a letter authorizing you to sue. Once you have the letter, you can go ahead and file suit. State law might also require you to file with the state's equivalent agency. In some cases you might have a better chance of pursuing legal recourse at the state level. For example, the Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan law firm notes on its website that California enacted a workplace bullying prevention and training law in early 2015, and that the state legislatures in both New York and New Jersey also introduced pending anti-workplace bullying laws.


A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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