Whether you sit next to a co-worker who tells off-color jokes or have endured someone who makes unwanted sexual advances toward you, you don't have to put up with either type of behavior. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe, secure workplace, free of harassment and threats.
Harassment and Threats
Despite being prohibited after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, harassment still causes many people to feel uncomfortable at work. According to the Federal Communications Commission, harassment occurs when an employee's conduct creates a hostile work environment for someone else. Harassment can take many forms, including being based on gender, age, sexual orientation and nationality. Sexual harassment, for example, can occur through inappropriate touching, remarks, jokes or the display of content on the computer. Threatening words or actions of a co-worker can also make you uncomfortable. The U.S. Department of Labor recommends that employers take a zero-tolerance policy concerning threats of violence in the workplace. If you feel the slightest bit threatened by a co-worker, report the incident immediately.
If you feel uncomfortable because of a co-worker's words or actions, take action. Author Al Switzler recommends practicing what you plan to say before having a confrontation with a co-worker. Select a friend or family member to practice with, but avoid doing so with a colleague. When you're ready to speak to the co-worker who has made you uncomfortable, consultant Brandon Smith recommends explaining your side of the story and providing specific documentation, such as the dates of the offense, if necessary. Speak to the co-worker in a private location and be calm and firm.
If a co-worker makes you feel uncomfortable, you don't have to necessarily confront the offender yourself. If you'd rather make an immediate complaint to your office's human resources rep or your manager, doing so is your right. Provide as much documentation about the incident as possible, especially if you claim you're being harassed. For example, the FCC says teasing and other offhand incidents aren't technically harassment.
Upon receiving your complaint, your manager or HR rep will likely conduct an investigation and discipline the co-worker according to the severity of the offense. Minor offenses often result in a warning, while severe issues result in termination, according to HR Hero. If the co-worker remains employed after the incident and you still feel uncomfortable, make further reports to management. If you feel the company has not sufficiently dealt with the situation, your options include taking the issue to your state's agency that deals with employment issues or contacting a lawyer to discuss a potential lawsuit.
- Federal Communications Commission: Understanding Workplace Harassment (FCC Staff)
- The Workplace Therapist: How to Confront Untrustworthy Co-Workers
- Manta: Harassment vs. Rude Behavior in the Workplace
- HR Hero: How to Discipline & Document Employee Behavior
- U.S. Department of Labor: Workplace Violence
- Strategic HR-ManagEase: Workplace Harassment
- Nolo: Suing for Harassment or Discrimination
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.