If you feel a colleague is harassing you, you can pursue action through your employer’s disciplinary system or through the courts. However, no matter how offensive or blatant the behavior is, it can be difficult to prove it meets the legal requirements for harassment. That’s why you need to gather as much evidence as you can before you report it.
Keep thorough and extensive notes describing the harassment, noting dates, times, the type of behavior and any witnesses. Be precise about what was said or done. If your colleague called you a racist or sexist name, include the specific term. If you pursue disciplinary or legal action, the burden of proof is on you and not on your colleague. If you can’t provide convincing and credible evidence, your claim likely won’t stand up under scrutiny. However, if you can refer to detailed documentation, your employer or a judge is more likely to take you seriously.
Demonstrate a Pattern
To prove harassment, you’ll need to demonstrate that the behavior was not an isolated incident or even occasional occurrence, but that it was chronic and pervasive. A single incident, no matter how humiliating or upsetting, might not legally constitute harassment. However, if you can show that the behavior occurred over several months or years or that it followed a consistent pattern, you might be able to persuade your boss or the courts that the actions were extreme and that you had to deal with them on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to proving the behavior was ongoing, you’ll also need to demonstrate how it harmed you professionally or personally. For example, describe how it interfered with your ability to do your job by illustrating how it damaged your reputation or undermined your credibility or authority in front of customers, colleagues or people within the industry. Alternatively, discuss how it created a hostile or threatening environment that prevented you from concentrating on your duties or feeling safe at work. Also mention if you asked your co-worker to stop. You’ll have a stronger claim if you can prove he knew the behavior upset you but continued.
Your best strategy might be to recruit colleagues, clients or other third parties to testify on your behalf. This method is especially effective if you can find people who are objective and with whom you don’t have a close personal friendship. Ask these witnesses to sign statements describing the behavior. Keep them in your file as you gather additional documentation, or take them immediately to your employer if you’re prepared to take action against your co-worker.