Make it clear that you want the harassment to stop
If you experience something you believe to be harassment, you should immediately let that person know that their behavior made you uncomfortable.
Be firm, specific, and suggest a behavior that is more appropriate. Never apologize. It might look something like this — "Hey Josh, your remarks about my outfits on a daily basis make me uncomfortable. I'd prefer if you would stop making these comments."
There are two benefits to calling out this behavior. One, it helps educate the person about what is inappropriate or uncomfortable behavior. Two, you've clearly communicated to the individual that you want their behavior to stop.
Make sure to document this interaction! (You can find more information on this in the sections below.)
If you don't feel comfortable directly confronting this individual or the harassment continues despite your efforts to tell the person to stop, continue reading the next section.
Don't run to HR just yet
That probably goes against everything you’ve been trained or onboarded to do, but it’s the best advice we can give you.
HR should know how to appropriately handle sexual harassment reports, but too often that’s simply not the case. (As witnessed in Susan Fowler’s case with Uber.)
We want you to be as informed and protected as possible before you take the step of talking to HR. That starts with understanding how HR works behind-the-scenes.
At the end of the day, Human Resources exists to protect the company and ensure that the company is compliant with the law. This means that when you report sexual harassment to HR, they will often have legal counsel helping them review your report, documenting their interactions with you, and determining what next steps to take.
Since they will likely have legal counsel on their side, we want you to be empowered with legal counsel on your side too. Which brings us to...
Talk to an employment lawyer first
Hold on - A lawyer? Isn’t it too soon for that? I’m not even sure I want to do anything yet? Also, aren’t lawyers super expensive?
#1: Free Consultations
If you call an employment lawyer right now, chances are they will offer you a free and confidential consultation over the phone. They will listen to your story, inform you of your legal rights, and help you consider your options. What happens next, if anything, is entirely up to you.
#2: No Fees Unless You Win
Most employment lawyers will also consider taking your case on a contingent-fee basis, meaning there will be no fees unless you win your case. If the case is successful, your lawyer will receive a percentage of the recovery and be reimbursed for costs. If the case is not successful, you will owe the lawyer nothing. (*This is not true for all lawyers, but it is certainly true for all lawyers affiliated with BetterBrave.)
#3: They Really Do Care About You and Your Rights
Many lawyers have dedicated years (often their entire careers) to protecting workers’ rights. The reason they do the work is because they want to help you.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CALL A LAWYER
It can be hard to know whether you are experiencing illegal sexual harassment. An employment lawyer can typically clarify this for you in a brief phone call. They know which questions to ask and which facts matter most.
Employment lawyers understand that we all have different priorities and backgrounds that influence the outcome we are looking for (including not taking any action at all). Are you worried about stress because you’re pregnant? Are you worried about finances? Will you need to pay for college soon? When discussing next steps, these are all factors to consider in consultation with a lawyer.
Free consultations are completely confidential and fully protected by attorney-client privilege. That means you can let your guard down and ask everything and anything you want to know.
DO NOT WAIT TO GET LEGAL ADVICE UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE
Take preventive measures and get the advice you need now, and may need later. Remember: employment lawyers are there to help you, just as they’ve helped many others in similar situations.
We know that taking the first step of finding a lawyer can be stressful and intimidating. Please let us know if we can introduce you to an employment lawyer in your state who we’ve pre-approved and think is great. You can contact us here!
After you talk to a lawyer
We mean everything. Keep a written record of all interactions you have with the harasser. This doesn’t have to be fancy! Just scribble it down on a piece of paper, but always write the date, and include as much detail as you can. What happened? Where did it happen? Who else heard or saw it? If you talked about the situation with anyone at work, write down those conversations too with the same amount of detail.
Save all the evidence of the harassment
Print emails. Take screenshots of text messages. Backup your phone.
You should even save text messages or emails you sent to friends or family about what happened, or who you’ve discussed it with.
Write down your story using this guide
Our tool (under the Resources tab) is a great way to organize your thoughts and create a timeline so you stay solid on the facts and timing. When you don’t know an exact date, give an estimate. If you’re not sure a detail is relevant, throw it in anyway. The more facts, the better. Detail is the stamp of truth!
Report to HR
After consulting with a lawyer, you will be confident and prepared to go to HR. Report the sexual harassment, in writing, to HR and to any supervisors who may be capable of retaliating against you (more on that later). Always write the date/time at the top of the report, and keep a copy stored in a safe place. (Do not give away your only copy!)
This way, if [knock on wood] you are subsequently retaliated against, the company cannot deny that you reported sexual harassment, or claim the supervisor who retaliated against didn’t know about your report. You will be able to prove it, in writing.
Reporting sexual harassment the right way sends a clear signal to your employer that you are informed of your rights, taking steps to protect yourself, and that retaliating against you would be a big mistake. (*Retaliation is also illegal.)
Consider reaching out to a Counselor
Experiencing sexual harassment can be lonely and confusing. You may feel like you want to avoid work. You may worry every time there is a social event with your coworkers.
We want you to know that you’re not alone. We’ve found that it’s helpful to talk about your situation with a counselor, especially if this experience has severely impacted your day-to-day life.