How to Handle Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment can take many different forms.

Workplace harassment can take many different forms.

While some cases of workplace harassment obviously cross the line between professional and personal, most workplace harassment is more subtle, and in a number of cases the harasser is not aware he is doing anything wrong. Workplace harassment is typically defined as unwelcome or hostile words or actions relating to the race, gender, ethnic or national origin, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or age of another person at the workplace. Sexual harassment is one form of workplace harassment, but there are many others. There is no single best way to deal with workplace harassment, but there are steps you can take to prevent harassment from occurring and to deal with it when it does occur.

Confront the harassment directly. Let the individual know his words or actions are unwelcome. Be very direct and say "Please stop calling me "son" or "boy." I find it demeaning," or “I’m not interested in going out. I prefer to keep our relationship strictly personal." Remember, in most cases, ignoring the situation will not make it go away, so it is better to be proactive. If confronting the situation directly does not stop the harassment, begin to document the harassing behavior so you will be prepared to report it.

Document the harassment. Report the harassment immediately if the behavior is obvious and witnessed by others. If the harassing behavior is more subtle or personal, take notes or even use your phone camera to record any offensive behaviors directed towards you or colleagues. Start documenting the harassment as soon as possible so you will have evidence of a pattern of behavior to substantiate a claim of a hostile work environment.

Report the harassment to your supervisor or the HR department as soon as possible. After you have reported the harassment, your employer has a legal responsibility to investigate and resolve any "hostile workplace" situations, and you will receive a written report when the investigation is complete. The investigation is likely to at least involve interviews with you and the accused harasser.

Tips

  • 1. Read your company's workplace harassment policy carefully. Consult with your HR department if you have any questions about how to proceed or file a complaint.
  • 2. Maintain professional boundaries at all times. This doesn't mean always call people by their last names or never go out to happy hours, but it does mean not discussing personal matters in depth, and not developing close workplace friendships, especially intimate friendships. This advice is obviously more easily given than followed, especially with close-knit work environments and long hours, but if you consistently demonstrate definite personal-professional boundaries you are much less likely to find yourself in a difficult situation.
 

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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