How to Handle Harassment in the Workplace
If you are reading this, you are most likely getting harassed at work. It is not a question. Harassment at work is not talked about as much as it should. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the fear of retaliation keeps employees from reporting workplace harassment. Another reason is that the victim may not be aware that they are being harassed.
The latter is possible because some forms of workplace harassment are subtle and passive. Workplace harassment could pass as a joke, some could see it as a challenge, while others think it toughens them up. The fact is this: if it doesn’t feel or sound appropriate to you, it is most likely harassment.
This post exposes the many faces of workplace harassment and the proper steps to handle it.
What is workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is any kind of threatening behavior, intimidation, or abuse inflicted upon workers within an organization. Not only can harassment be physical or verbal, but gestures are also some of the worst and most dangerous forms of harassment. This is because, without physical evidence, harassment may be difficult to prove.
Harassment is another form of bullying. Harassers are usually superior to their victims. They take advantage of what they perceive as weakness or helplessness in their victims to hurt them.
What shape or form does harassment take in the workplace?
Workplace harassment comes in different shades. Some of the common types of workplace harassment you should know to include the following:
- Sexual harassment. Perhaps the most common form of harassment at work or anywhere else is sexual harassment. When sexual gestures and remarks are made towards another colleague, it is harassment.
- Gender harassment. This is when people get teased or become an easy target when something goes wrong at work due to their gender. This is common when a man does a job that is widely seen as a “woman’s job” and vice versa. Male nurses and female bodybuilders can easily fall victim.
- Power harassment. Usually, a superior inflict this type of harm on someone under them. This can range from a subtle to a stern abuse of power to intimidate someone. Examples include relatively treating a junior colleague poorly or giving them impossible tasks because the superior has the power.
- Physical harassment. This form of harassment is inexcusable and should never be tolerated. Physical harassment is when someone is physically threatened or attacked by a colleague or superior in the workplace. It can come in the form of pushing, shoving, knocking files off a colleague’s hands, or a threat to cause harm.
- Racial harassment. This occurs when someone is profiled because of their race. It ranges from offensive jokes to constant stereotypical comments to tease a colleague. This is common in the beauty and cosmetics industry and entertainment as well.
- Religious harassment. When your colleagues are intolerant of your religious rights and even deny them without any just cause, it is harassment. Inappropriate jokes and pressure to partake in other religious rites are clear signs of religious harassment.
- One of the serious modern-day crimes is cyberbullying and it happens in the workplace. When colleagues always look for an opportunity to tease you or cause you harm online either during private or group chats, it’s cyberbullying.
- Third-party harassment. This is when the harasser is not from within the organization you represent. It could be a client or a prospective partner. Sometimes, it is an angry customer on the phone or the ones who show up in person.
How to deal with harassment at work
Workplace harassment is a serious offense that must be stopped. However, it should be handled with care so that justice is served.
Define the nature of the harassment.
The first step to take is to know what you are dealing with at the moment. For instance, is it sexual harassment or racial harassment? An accusation of workplace harassment is a serious offense that comes with severe consequences. Thus, before you go accusing someone of harassment in the workplace, know what you are saying.
Identify the culprit.
Now that you are sure that you are indeed a target of workplace harassment, identify your harasser. In the case of open harassment, identifying the culprit is easy. Workplace harassment can also be passive, which makes it difficult to tell who the culprit is. Cyberbullying in the workplace, for instance, might be spearheaded by an anonymous colleague. This is a tricky situation.
However, once you find out who your harasser or harasser is, you know what next to do. Also, a harasser can be more than one person, so you have to be careful to not single out the wrong person.
Sometimes, the smartest way to handle a fight is to walk away from it. Once you identify the nature of abuse you are receiving and where it is coming from, a little adjustment could help. This is not saying you should give in to the harasser. For example, try not to cross paths with your harasser or be alone with them. You should avoid them as much as possible and see if that works.
Once you notice a pattern and sense that the harassment won’t stop anytime soon, start gathering evidence. You can only prove that you are being harassed by showing concrete evidence.
Write accounts of your conversations in a note. Make sure information like the date, time, and specific details of the harassment are noted. If you can, make a recording of conversations if the harassment is verbal. And if it is cyberbullying, take screenshots and maintain details of online conversations. The more evidence you gather, the more you are prepared for a fight if it comes.
Talk to someone.
Victims of harassment go through trauma and mental fatigue which puts a strain on their health. Even when you don’t have all the evidence, talk to someone you trust about it. Meet a friend or family member for moral support and some advice. The support you get in those difficult times could be what keeps you from losing your mind.
Confront the culprit.
Once you have told someone you trust about the harassment you are facing, it’s time to confront your harasser. Don’t be quick to report to the police or file an official complaint if you don’t have all the details. The best way to confirm the intent of your harasser is by confronting them. This is because some people harass their colleagues without knowing it. Confronting them one-on-one will make them understand the severity of their actions. However, if the harasser is unrepentant, then it’s time for you to take some serious action.
Upon confirming that you are getting harassed and you know the culprit, report to the appropriate workplace body. Each workplace has a unit that takes care of such cases. Usually, the human resources department can help resolve the issue and punish the harasser as they see fit. You might not need to follow the next steps after this.
Source prior victims of harassment.
If after reporting to the human resources department the abuse persists, you must take drastic measures. Now that you know that the harassment cannot be stopped internally, report to the police and seek legal help. In doing this, you might need to come up with more evidence.
If you are getting harassed at work, others have likely experienced something similar. Find those who have gone through the same ordeal and seek their support. You might be lucky to find some that have been harassed by the same person or group.
File a lawsuit against the harasser.
Going to court might become your last resort for lasting freedom from harassment. After gathering enough evidence, including the testimonies of witnesses and other victims, file a lawsuit. Secure the services of a good lawyer with an impressive record of winning similar cases. Use all the resources you have- the evidence and testimonies- to plead your case.
Firstly, ask the court to give the harasser a restraining order. That will take some pressure off you and onto the culprit. See to it that you get the justice you deserve.
Sue, then leave the organization.
Sadly, some organizations tend to choose sides in some cases. For example, to save face, the company might ask a victim of sexual abuse to keep quiet if the harasser were a founding member. This means you have a big fight against the harasser and your company. Yet, it is a fight you can win with the right resources.
Thus, gather all the information you need including evidence, and get a strong legal team. Aim to settle it outside the courtroom first. However, you may go to court if that fails.
While fighting big battles such as these, you need all the help you can get. Join a movement against such discrimination or injustice online or offline. The more support you get from strong organizations, the better your chances of winning are.
Note that remaining in the organization would no longer be an option after taking them to court. However, know that the victory will not change your life alone. It will also give justice to others in your position.
Who can be harassed in the workplace?
When the topic of workplace harassment comes up, people are quick to assume that a woman is a victim. This is because most victims of workplace harassment are women. The EEOC’s report on sexual harassment from 2010 through 2020 shows that women account for over a whopping 82% of sexual harassment cases filed.
Although women face harassment in the workplace the most, men also get harassed at work as well.
While most harassers are often superiors in the workplace, there are cases where colleagues also harass their peers. Sometimes, a group of co-workers harasses their colleagues. Also, workplace harassment is not limited to men being the harassers and women being the victims. At times, there is gender-on-gender harassment by individuals or groups.
How Workplace Harassment affects people
Workplace harassment can trigger a host of negative feelings in the victim.
Insecurity. As a victim of workplace harassment, the first thing you feel is insecurity. You no longer feel safe where you make a living. After working hard to get a job you love, such a disruption can be disheartening and scary.
Discomfort. When virtually everything puts you on edge, you become uncomfortable. The mind becomes restless and you unconsciously begin to anticipate the next harassing move.
In such cases, most things put you on edge at the office. Quietness, sudden noise, and even footsteps give you goosebumps. The worst feeling comes when your harasser is near you.
Mental stress. Being a victim is a terrible experience, especially when there is little you can do to change the situation. The moment you become a target of workplace harassment, your brain easily gets distracted by negative thoughts. You begin to process and overthink your next moves. Also, you question everything about yourself. Unfortunately, some might think they are the problem at this stage.
Loss of concentration and reduced productivity. Many people, especially women, get more stressed due to the harassment they receive. Next, they begin to lose focus and get lost in thoughts. This ultimately reduces their level of productivity.
Fear. For most victims of workplace harassment, when fear creeps in, they become different people. The paranoia starts in the workplace and follows them everywhere they go, including at home.
Harassment in the workplace is a serious offense. It puts the victim in a difficult state that could affect their mental health, productivity, professionalism, and relationships. Anyone can be harassed at work for various reasons including race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and more.
Seek all the support you can get. If the harassment persists, report it internally. Let going to court be your last resort. Remember, your fight and victory are not yours alone.