The predatory sexual behavior in our society has reached a crescendo, and those who’ve been targeted now feel their strength in numbers. The million-strong “Me Too” movement is empowering employees to stand up against unwanted sexual behavior in the workplace. People who have been harassed or even assaulted by an office predator are now speaking up and blowing the whistle on these aggressors.
Nearly 13,000 charges of sexual harassment were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016. While the laws are there to protect women and men from lewd behavior and unwanted sexual advances, many fear of retaliation and choose not to fight. But with the media and social media spotlight now focused on the pervasiveness of inappropriate remarks, unwelcome advances and physical abuse in the workplace, there’s hope that the bad behavior will cease.
However, if your indecent boss or inappropriate co-worker hasn’t figured out that sexual harassment won’t be tolerated, empower yourself by taking these actions.
- Rely on your instincts.His greetings of “Hi gorgeous” and repeated requests to go out with him make your skin crawl. You’ve done nothing to attract his attention, and you try your best to avoid being alone with him at all costs. Be direct and tell the harasser in no uncertain terms that his advances are offensive. If you have to state your discomfort a few times, then know that it’s time to file a grievance with Human Resources.
- Exude professionalism.No, your hemline or sleeve length shouldn’t give license for ogling, but why risk sending a mixed message? Wear business attire, even if you’re meeting a date after work. When socializing with colleagues, keep all conversations with G-rated. Leave before any real partying gets underway to keep from becoming a predator’s target.
- Document anything uncomfortable or offensive.If the screensaver on your co-worker’s computer is a naked woman, or your boss makes off-color comments full of sexual innuendo, record what you see or hear. Write down and date any conversations that embarrassed you, and photograph his inappropriate computer screen with your phone. Documenting evidence that shows “hostile work environment harassment” provides your legal recourse. As a rule, one isolated incident isn’t enough to prove a hostile environment. You will likely need to show a pattern of predatory behavior.
- Say NO loud and clear.If you are harassed by a boss or colleague, you need to speak out tell him or her straight out that the behavior is inappropriate. If the behavior persists, you need to report it to Human Resources or the person’s supervisor. Be sure to document any and all incidents.
- Never take the bait.If you ask for a well-earned promotion or a raise, but your boss wants to discuss it over drinks, you need to be wary. Consider the invitation a red flag and decline. If at any time your supervisor implies that your job status could be adversely affected if you don’t acquiesce to his or her advances, you have a legitimate sexual harassment case.
- Move to a new department.If you’ve spoken out against a sexual predator, but now everyone gives you the cold shoulder for blowing the whistle, it may be best to cut your ties and ask to transfer to another department. Even if the person making the sexual advances has backed off, if you’ve been turned into a pariah among your co-workers you won’t be able to get your work done. Shamefully, in some work environments, it’s the accuser, not the perpetrator, who becomes ostracized. Show you aren’t deterred and find a better place in which to focus your energy.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It applies to any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment or interferes with work performance. The law is intended to protect victims, and, in this new climate of condemning sexual predators, there’s hope that society will stand behind victims so that they no longer have to fear unfair retaliation.
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