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. We want you to be as informed and protected as possible before you take the step of talking to HR.
Write down your story and document everything
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 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 these guides
Our guides (under the Resources tab) are 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
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 an Employment Lawyer
In an ideal world, your Human Resources has processes in place to address your situation appropriately. Oftentimes, they do handle reports of harassment swiftly and appropriately.
Unfortunately, there are instances where that’s simply not the case. (As witnessed in Susan Fowler’s case with Uber.)
If you feel nervous about reporting your situation to your Human Resources department or if you think your HR department did not handle your case appropriately, a resource we recommend exploring is hopping on a free consultation call with an employment lawyer.
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? 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.
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.
We know that taking the first step of finding a lawyer can be stressful and intimidating. Please check out the Resources page for more information on how to find a lawyer or feel free to contact us if you have questions.
Consider 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 incredibly helpful to talk about your situation with a counselor, especially if this experience has severely impacted your day-to-day life.
Some additional tips to finding counselors, especially if you’re on a tight budget!
- Referrals through friends
- Local organizations that offer free counseling
- Company insurance plan (some health insurance plans provided by companies cover costs of counseling sessions)
- Company Employee Assistance Programs (some corporations provide these resources free to employees, which include free or subsidized access to counselors)