Are you in a situation where you’ve experienced harassment at work? Are you unsure if you’ve experienced harassment? Any action that causes discomfort to another person based on protected classes is considered harassment, and it can take place in both public and private areas of the workplace. There are federal and state laws that have been implemented in order to eliminate and prevent offensive conduct and harassing behavior in the workplace. Let’s discuss how you can report harassment if you experience it at work, as well as the protections that your employer is required to provide to you and your coworkers.
What is Considered Workplace Harassment?
First of all, we need to establish what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace. Any unwanted physical, verbal, or visual activity at work that causes you to feel uncomfortable, threatened, or ashamed is referred to as harassment, as it relates to legally protected characteristics. However, harassment can sometimes feel nuanced rather than straightforward.
This non-physical harassment can make you feel intimidated, humiliated, or offended. Verbal harassment can sometimes be challenging to identify, because it may cause varying reactions among your coworkers. The most common forms of verbal sexual harassment include making offensive jokes, remarks about an individual's national origin, teasing or asking sexually related questions; asking someone at work to go out with you, unwelcome sexual advances, and sexual favors; inquiring about the sexual preference or history of a colleague at the workplace; and making inappropriate sounds such as kissing sounds, whistling, or smacking lips; sending someone sexual emails, notes, or letters.
However, verbal harassment does not need to be explicitly sexual to create a hostile work environment. It can also include gossiping about someone and spreading lies about them; using abusive language and offensive name-calling; commenting negatively about a person’s clothing, body, or personal behavior; verbal attacks such as arguing with someone using threatening, discriminatory, or demeaning words; and embarrassing someone in front of people (such as an employer shouting and yelling at an employee over poor performance).
Visual harassment occurs when an individual exposes themselves, or shows other explicit images/videos to a coworker with the victim’s consent. This act may then affect the victim’s work performance or attitude. Examples of visual harassment include staring or unwelcome gestures, displaying/posting information related to sexual behaviors, exposing someone else’s private images without their consent, sending sexual images or videos (either of oneself or of pornography), or exposing private parts.
Also known as workplace violence, physical harassment may be the most obvious form of harassment. Whenever someone touches you against your will, it is known as physical harassment, and this behavior is intended to intimidate, embarrass, or threaten the victim.
The most common forms of physical harassment include sexual assault or abuse, inappropriately touching, grabbing, rubbing, or brushing up against someone, using intimidating gestures, blocking someone’s movements, inappropriate kissing or hugging, and unwelcome touching of another person's hair, clothes, or body.
Harassment prevention training from EasyLlama provides numerous illustrations of the different types of harassment , as well as example scenarios to more easily identify and report harassment.
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How to Report Workplace Harassment
As an employee, you have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment, and your employer has a legal responsibility to investigate and take corrective action if necessary. If you experience or witness sexual harassment in the workplace, you should check your employee handbook to learn the different avenues of reporting harassment. Your employer should also provide more than one channel for reporting, in case your harasser is a supervisor or someone who would be involved in the reporting process.
It is highly recommended to compile any evidence (like text messages, emails, established timeline, and eyewitness accounts) and have it ready when reporting abuse. Filing a letter or email in writing may also be better than pulling a supervisor or HR person aside to discuss concerns. This paper trail could be of great benefit so that you can provide proof of filing a report if a lawsuit were to arise. You may also want to report the harassment to the EEOC, but be sure to do so after reporting to your workplace. It is recommended (and in some cases required by law) to file a report with your employer first.
What to Expect from a Harassment Investigation
Once you have filed a harassment claim, your employer is required to conduct an investigation. Employers should do their best to protect the confidentiality of the employee, but keep in mind it may not always be possible to keep your identity 100% confidential. If the claim is denied by your harasser, investigators will first interview you, and potentially other relevant witnesses. This is also where you can provide any evidence of harassment to the investigators. When the investigation is complete, employers must take corrective action to prevent harassment from happening again. If you have further concerns, you could take your case to a lawyer or the EEOC.
An organization like EasyLlama helps in training employees concerning sexual harassment cases and how to prevent them. EasyLlama’s online courses can help train employees to recognize unlawful harassment, discrimination, microaggressions, and more — as well as how to report it. If you are interested in sharing EasyLlama sexual harassment training with your employer or HR department, a free preview of our courses can be accessed online. And with our Anonymous Reporting and Case Management, employees like you can confidentially submit feedback or file a report and then communicate with management to effectively resolve your concern and improve workplace culture.
EasyLlama firmly believes that it is never okay to perpetrate harassment, and we are proud to stand with survivors and educate workplaces about preventing sexual harassment.