Many people have the privilege of going into work without having to expect sexual harassment from colleagues. It can therefore be especially shocking for some people when the encounter does take place.
Among the many emotions that come with experiencing sexual harassment at work, you may also be confused about how to respond. Taking action against a colleague's inappropriate behavior poses many challenges. You want to stand up for yourself without risking your job or your safety in the office. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to report workplace sexual harassment professionally while ensuring your protection as much as possible:
- Review your company's policy - Look through your company's policy to find out what your rights are in the event of sexual harassment. Your company may have a policy that protects whistleblowers from retaliation, which could grant you the professional right to call a colleague out for harassment. Consider printing out the policy and highlighting all the relevant sections.
- Seek out an authority figure you can trust - Identify someone in your line of authority at work whom you can trust to handle your claim. This person should be someone who can be both objective and emotionally sensitive to your experience.
- Plan how you will report the harassment - Schedule a meeting with Human Resources and your chosen authority figure, and then prepare for it. Consider how you want to present your experience. Include examples and reliable witnesses, if possible. It may be helpful to write down what you want to say, and to practice it with a trusted friend or family member who does not work at your company. This will help you feel confident when discussing the sensitive matter in an office setting.
- Make your complaint, and take note of the response - During the meeting explain how your experience with sexual harassment made you feel uncomfortable using the examples you prepared. It is equally important to take note of the company's response to your complaint. Write down what the company representatives say during the meeting so you can keep a record of their response. This may help keep them accountable as well.
- Ask about the next steps - Thank the people who attended your meeting for their time, and do not be afraid to ask about the company's next steps. You deserve to know how your report will be followed up on, as well as how long it will be processed.
You have the right to feel empowered
It can be daunting to even think about calling out your colleague for sexual harassment, even if you are of a senior position in the company. Amidst the various stressful emotions you may be feeling towards your encounter, it is important to remember that you have the right to speak up for yourself, especially when your company's policy favors your position. You can also reach out to an employment law attorney at any stage to ensure that your rights remain protected.