Sexual harassment in the workplace is not something that should ever be tolerated. With cases like the alleged harassment of former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson by CEO Roger Ailes receiving regular news coverage and seemingly endless speculation, it is important to review what constitutes workplace sexual harassment and what to do if you feel you have been harassed.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. The harassment is often linked to threats to employment security or advancement and creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment that interferes with an individual's work performance or advancement. Ms. Carlson, for example, alleges that she was pushed out of the Fox News network because she refused sexual advances and made complaints about inappropriate behavior on set. While it is most often directed at women, men are subject to sexual harassment as well.
If you experience sexual harassment at work, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and handle the situation in a professional manner. First, review your employee handbook for clarification on how your employer defines and deals with harassment. Note that the letter of the law may be different than the wording in the employee handbook.
Second, make your voice heard. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, you can bring up the behavior with that person. It may be awkward but it is also possible that that person doesn't realize that his or her behavior is offensive. It is also a good idea to use email as a way to document your request that a coworker change his or her behavior.
While you do not have to report any harassment to your manager, you should raise the issue with your human resources representative if the harassing behavior continues or if you feel too uncomfortable to bring it up with your coworker. Most companies will have steps in place to investigate sexual harassment claims. If you feel that your company or HR representative is not handling your complaint appropriately, there are other steps you can take, including taking legal advice independently.
If you feel you need legal representation, seek out an attorney who specializes in employment law and has experience in working on sexual harassment cases. Your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you for seeking legal help.