What To Do If You Are Being Sexually Harassed At Your Job

If you are being sexually harassed on the job, here are some things you can do to protect yourself from further abuse or advances.

At many companies it is common to develop a comfortable camaraderie among co-workers. Over time, employees may get to know each other and develop friendships that can lead to a casual atmosphere at work. But taking personal jokes too far or attempting to abuse a co-worker for personal gain is a federal crime.

If you believe you are being sexually harassed by someone you work with, here are some things to do:

1. Objectively evaluate the person's behavior. Are you too sensitive or is the co-worker too forward to some of the comments made to you? Be careful not to blow a friendly expression out of proportion:

"You look nice today."

This may be a perfectly innocent comment unless accompanied by leering or licking of lips. But a similar comment may go too far:

"That tight dress makes my mouth water."

On one hand, you must be the judge of whether a statement is acceptable or not. On the other hand, be careful not to jump the gun in assessing a co-worker's motives. When in doubt, jot down the exact words and think about them a day or two to decide if they are truly offensive, and were meant to be. If you are still unsure, discuss the comments with a trusted friend to get a second opinion.

2. When expressions are clearly offensive, be firm with the offender:

"Comments like that make me uncomfortable."

"What would your wife say if she heard you?"

"Please don't talk about the way I look."

3. If the person dismisses your concerns or repeats similar statements later, bring in added support:

"My boyfriend won't appreciate your saying that."

"Susan, Joe's comment bothers me. What do you think?"

4. If the abuser denies his or her behavior, keep records of each incident, including date, time, location, witnesses (if any), and exact comments, or as close as you can get to being verbatim. Then if the behavior continues, discuss it with your supervisor or the affirmative action office, using your record of details.

5. If you know of other employees who have been victimized by the harasser, band together to confront the person or go to your supervisor as a group. Numbers speak volumes.

6. Be sure to report any non-workplace related harassment. If a co-worker telephones, e-mails, or comes to your home after hours, he or she may be committing a stalking offense and become subject to prosecution.

7. Avoid even the appearance of alluring clothing, flirtatious behavior, or inviting mannerisms, which can be leveled as an accusation against you and serve as an abuser's excuse:

"But I thought she wanted me to come on to her."

"She dresses so seductively, she looked easy."

Even if such statements are false, others may be gulled into believing them and exonerating the harasser.

The workplace is protected by laws to prevent employees from sexual harassment. Check with your human resources office to learn about your company's existing policy and what to do if someone harasses you.

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