I’ve Been Sexually Harassed in the Workplace — Now What?

By | July 13, 2011

It can be one of the most intimidating situations anybody ever encounters in their personal lives – that is, unless you swim with sharks or study crocodiles on a regular basis. But all jokes aside, sexual harassment can be a very serious and relevant issue. And it’s never more relevant than when it comes into your life and demands that you face your problems head on.

The only problem is that many people simply don’t know what to do in order to combat sexual harassment in the first place. But let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you’re not worried about preventing harassment. Instead, you’re focused on what to do next after you’re fairly certain that you’ve been sexually harassed.

You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll define what sexual harassment is so you know whether or not you might have a case, and then detail the steps you can take to be prepared for legal action if necessary. Let’s get started.

How do I know if I’ve been sexually harassed?

Of course, one of the most fundamental questions many people face when thinking about sexual harassment isn’t what they should do, but if they should do anything at all. It’s this stage of uncertainty that can be among the worst places to be in. You feel pressure, and you know something’s wrong – but you’re not sure that anything illegal has taken place. You definitely want to make sure that you know someone is breaking the law before you file a lawsuit, because if you don’t you could be throwing away a job – and even future work down the road – for no need.

So let’s talk about what sexual harassment is. Quite simply, it can fall under the following scenarios:

  • Workplace influence being used for sexual coercion. This is perhaps the, for lack of a better term, “classic” sexual harassment because it’s been shown to us many times across various media before – TV, films, you name it. When someone tells you point blank that you have to perform sexual favors for them in order to keep your job or to move ahead in the company, or any similar terms, then you’re definitely a victim of sexual harassment and should move forward.
  • General harassment of a sexual nature. It might sound like we’re twisting words here, but bear with us: we all know what general harassment feels like. Being poked, prodded, picked on – they all fall under this umbrella. But there’s more to the story here. If you’re being harassed in this way because of your gender or your sexuality is being poked fun of – that’s sexual harassment.

There are other forms of sexual harassment, but these are two of the most common scenarios that people encounter. If you’re still in doubt as to the type of harassment you’ve endured, be sure to contact a lawyer, describe what’s been going on, and then take their advice.

But let’s say that one of the scenarios above sounds like something you’ve had to endure. What do you do now? After all, you already know that you’ve been sexually harassed. Now is when you’ll want to focus on the immediate action steps toward resolving the situation.

Don’t file a lawsuit right away

It can be tempting to use the anger and vulnerability you feel at this point to press yourself toward taking action. But we warn you: it’s much better to take a deep breath and decide to be methodical in your approach to sexual harassment. After all, what good is your case if you’re never able to prove any harassment ever took place? You’re going to want to see what action steps you can take next in order to record any type of harassment that takes place.

They key here is not necessarily the recording of harassment, but it’s making sure that your evidence complies with state law. For example, if it’s illegal to record someone without their permission in your state, then that evidence might be inadmissible when it comes to the trial or even pre-trial activity. That’s why it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the law.

The first step you take should be to open communication about the harassment. What if someone has been harassing you unwittingly and didn’t know how you’ve been taking their jabs or jokes? Sure, they might be insensitive, but they might also simply be unaware of the problems you’re having with them. When you tell someone to stop, make sure you take a written note of it – marking the date and time that the conversation took place, as well as any witnesses who might have seen it. Again, don’t jump to any conclusions just yet, but be methodical in your approach.

One of the problems with sexual harassment cases is that they can sometimes boil down to the classic he-said, she-said problem in which the court system doesn’t know whose word to take at face value. You’ll want to eliminate this as much as possible by taking detailed records of all incidents, because these records can help corroborate your story over the long haul and make you appear much more trustworthy than the other party.

When you file a lawsuit, it can be jarring to some people, so be ready for that kind of reaction – but remember that if you’ve been keeping track of everything, justice should prevail.

Once you’ve been doing these action steps, it’s important to then consult a lawyer about filing a lawsuit (if you haven’t consulted with one already) and ask them for more information on the action steps you’ll need to take from there. Hopefully at this point you’ll feel like you’ve finally taken control of a sticky situation and that you’re going to be ready for a court case if it ever comes to that. If you build up a strong enough case, there’s a good chance you could win justice by settling out of court and use those advantages to set up a better life for yourself.

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