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What Steps Do You Take With Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Sexual harassment isn’t something to be taken lightly. It’s a form of discrimination, and your employer has a legal obligation to prevent this from happening. But the eyes and ears of management can’t be everyplace at once, and it’s often left up to the victim — in this case, an employee — to report any incidents of harassment, which are often defined as "unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions," according to the Equal Rights Advocates.
Document the incident as soon as it happens. Jot down the date, time, location and nature of harassment. Be specific. Simply stating that a colleague sexually harassed you isn’t enough. Write down everything that was said or done to you. If there were witnesses, include their names, as well. Better yet, ask a colleague to corroborate your allegations with a written statement of what happened. A third-party account can help support your claim. The Equal Rights Advocates suggests keeping all documentation in a safe place, such as your home.
Report the matter to a human resources representative. You may also want to report the incident to your direct manager or the offender's direct supervisor. Provide a copy of the documentation of the incident, keeping the original in your own possession. Reporting the incident creates a legal obligation that your employer will investigate the claim, as well as come up with a solution to the situation if the claim is found to be true.
Verify the claim in writing with the manager, HR rep or other professional that you reported the incident to. Email is the easiest, and it creates a record of the date and time of your complaint. Within the email, summarize all the information discussed at the meeting, including the date, time, location and nature of the harassment, as well as the next steps to be taken to remedy the situation.
After making the claim, your employer may not involve you in the investigation. Follow-up with the person handling the complaint, and ask to participate — if, of course, you want to — or to receive updates on the investigation. As with verifying the claim, do all follow-ups in writing. If you have additional information involving the complaint, send emails, as well. Print out copies of all correspondence and keep them with the original documentation of the complaint.
If your employer fails to take action or retaliates against you for making the claim, talk to a lawyer. A legal professional can help you file a formal sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and any subsequent lawsuits as a result of the situation.
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Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.