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Even with more awareness about harassment in the workplace – in light of cases like Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood and employee walkouts over allegations of bad behavior at Silicon Valley tech giants – the numbers of those who report it remain low. Overall, it's estimated that nearly 70 percent of all harassment goes unreported, and those who face sexual harassment are even less likely to file a complaint. Here's how to change those statistics and file an official complaint.
What is Harassment
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is "unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information." Types of harassment can be sexual in nature, bullying, online harassment, physical violence, or any type of activity that is intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Check Company Policy
First, check to see what your company's written policy is. Consult your employee handbook or internal portal to understand the company's procedures. Depending on the size of the company and the amount of HR support, the amount of information can range from a short description urging employees to discuss any problems with their manager, to a lengthy step-by-step guide.
Officially Report It
Once you understand the procedure, report the harassment in writing. Experts urge those who have experienced any kind of unwanted behavior in the workplace to take steps as quickly as possible. Speak to your HR rep (or your manager if your company doesn't have HR staff) to fully discuss the issue and tell them you want to file an official report. This will clarify the intent of your meeting and make it clear you want to move forward with next steps to make a report. Also, be sure keep your manager informed (unless your manager is the person you are reporting).
If there are severe internal issues that make you distrustful of your employer or doubt their ability to take your claim seriously, you can file a claim with the EEOC.
Follow-Up in Writing
After your meeting with HR, your manager, or both, send a recap email. Be sure to detail the following information discussed from the meeting, as well as any other pertinent items discussed.
- A summary of your complaint (attach the written complaint to the email)
- Who attended the meeting
- Next steps
- Deadlines, if applicable
Don't delete anything! If you are being harassed by a co-worker and there is a digital or paper trail, keep it. This could be anything from inappropriate emails, texts, photos, or any other form of communication. If the harasser is more discreet (for example, someone continuously discredits your ideas publicly in meetings, but then uses them for their own gain), make a note of every time an incident happens, and who else was present and can corroborate the incident.
If you think you are being discriminated against by a manager and are being denied promotions, raises or assignments because of it, there are steps you can take. In addition to saving all the harassment-related documentation, be sure to keep all formal review paperwork, make a note of any discrepancies, and take those to HR. For example, did you discuss a promotion if you met certain goals but after meeting those goals you were told something else? Again, if there aren't electronic records, make your own notes of each incident and note as many details as possible.
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Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.