How to Deal with Workplace Harassment Effectively

by Feb 28, 2022

Workplace harassment doesn’t just make you feel uncomfortable. It also makes you feel unsafe. At times, harassment at work can be so severe that you may want to quit your job. It can affect your career, well being, and self esteem.

When someone famous is held responsible for harassment at work or simply caught in the act, it gets everyone’s attention. But, most workplace harassment stories are merely pushed under the carpet. It’s partly because workers do not understand their rights or do not know who they should turn to for help when they experience verbal or physical badgering at work due to their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.

Be it unsolicited comments, abusive behavior, name calling, insults, offensive jokes, intimidation, threats or any other conduct that compromises your physical or mental well being at work, you should know that you have rights. You shouldn’t be paralyzed with fear or forced to think that the only way to stop workplace harassment is to simply exit the situation! You should fight back. You should know how to tactfully deal with workplace harassment and if necessary, make the harasser pay for their actions.  Here in this post, we will discuss exactly that.

Let Them Know the Behavior Is Unwelcome

You may want to address the problem directly with the bully. Let them know that their behavior is not appropriate or not professional. Depending upon how comfortable you are in communicating with the harasser, you can pass on the message in-person or write them an email. At times, a carefully crafted text message can do the trick. For example, if a colleague has been passing lewd comments at work or sharing inappropriate videos and pictures, you can politely ask them to back off during lunch.

When workplace harassment is of serious nature or if you have attempted to resolve the recurring problem to no avail, it’s time you talk to someone else about it.

File an Internal Complaint

Do you want to report the misconduct? First things first, go through your company’s employee handbook. Chances are that your company’s human resources department has laid out a procedure for employees to file internal complaints. Companies that understand the cost of bad behavior also employ full-time equal employment opportunity officers who investigate complaints related to workplace harassment.

Even when there is no well-established complaint procedure or dedicated officer who looks after workplace harassment complaints at your company, you can still submit a formal complaint in writing to your supervisor, HR manager, or employer.

Keep a copy of the written complaint to prove that the company management was aware of workplace harassment. Even when you report workplace harassment during a meeting, be sure to follow up on this with a written summary.

Write It Down

If things escalate, or when legal consequences emerge, the most effective tool that you can use to protect your job and yourself is a written documentation. So, do not rely on your memory. When you have to deal with any conduct that amounts to harassment, make sure that you write down the details of exactly what happened. Do not just write down a general overview of what happened. You need to be very specific. Develop a written description of workplace harassment that captures the following details –

  • Dates
  • Places
  • Time
  • Witnesses

When you submit a written complaint, write down –

  • Who did you submit the report to
  • How did that person respond
  • What happened in response to your workplace harassment complaint

In case your supervisor or the HR department fails to properly investigate your report or take necessary action, these written records may serve as crucial evidence when you decide to pursue a workplace harassment claim. This is especially important when you are at the receiving end of severe harassment (e.g. sexual harassment) and are planning to seek legal counsel. So, try to keep these written records as objective & accurate as possible.

It’s a good idea to keep such written records in a safe place. What if you are suddenly unable to access your workstation or locker at work?

Find Co-Workers Who Are Being Harassed at Work  

It’s a good idea to band together with colleagues who are at the receiving end of workplace harassment like you. They may not be willing to fight back because they fear losing their jobs or being denied incentives, career growth opportunities, better assignments, etc. But, you can still gather the necessary details and mention certain incidents in your report (without revealing the names). If you can get such co-workers to support your cause, it can be easy to put an end to workplace harassment.

Keep Your Job Performance Records Ready

When the harasser is a supervisor, chances are that they will simply deny the charges and attack your performance at work. Therefore, try to maintain a record of your performance at work. Letters, memos, emails, etc. that document your job performance can help you prepare detailed notes to prove that you have been discharging your professional duties with utmost dedication.

Approach the EEOC

If your supervisors, HR department, or company management continues to ignore workplace harassment, it’s time you consult an attorney and file a charge with the federal EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Filing a complaint with the EEOC is a necessary requirement if you intend to sue your employer at a later stage (if the need arises).

Final Words

Workplace harassment isn’t always easy to deal with. So, don’t hesitate to ask for support from co-workers, friends, and family. Most importantly, consult an employment law attorney who specializes in handling workplace discrimination cases. An experienced lawyer can help you understand your legal options better. You will know which legal recourse you may take, how you can get justice, and what kind of challenges lay ahead.

Do not allow anyone to harass you at work. Even if it seems harmless at first, workplace harassment can quickly get severe. Standing up to workplace harassment is the only way to stop it. 

Written by: Steven I. Azizi on 2.28.22

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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