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< Back Career Advice

7 steps to take if you think you’re being sexually harassed at work

Ladan Nikravan Hayes | January 19, 2018

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Here’s what to do if you find yourself fending off unwanted sexual attention — physical or verbal — from a coworker or boss.

Since The New York Times published its first story on movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct, dozens of prominent men have been accused of harassment leading to firings, resignations and criminal investigations. It has also started a national conversation about sexual harassment – particularly in the workplace, but according to a new CareerBuilder survey, the majority of victims continue to keep quiet. Of those who have been sexually harassed, the majority (72 percent) did not report the incident, and more than half (54 percent) did not confront the person responsible for harassment.

Looking at who has felt sexually harassed in the workplace, more than 1 in 10 workers (12 percent) say they have, with women (17 percent) more likely to feel harassed than men (7 percent), and 17 percent of those ages 18-34 report feeling sexually harassed at work compared to 11 percent of those ages 35-44, 10 percent of those ages 45-54, and 9 percent of those over the age of 55..

While the majority of those who say they have felt sexually harassed in the workplace say they did not confront the person responsible for harassment, of those who did (46 percent), 13 percent said the situation stayed the same and 9 percent said it actually got worse.

More than 1 in 4 (28 percent) of those who have been harassed said they reported it; 15 percent told the person’s boss or someone higher up in the organization, 11 percent reported it to HR, and 3 percent informed the legal department.

Those who did not report the harassment most often did not because they didn’t want to be labeled a troublemaker (40 percent), 22 percent said it would be their word against the other person, while 18 percent said theywere afraid of losing their jobs. On the other hand, of those who did report it, 76 percent said the issue was resolved – 29 percent said the person stopped the harassment and 21 percent said the person accused was fired.

Know your rights: What can you do?
Here are steps to help you protect yourself and your civil rights if you have been or are being sexually harassed at work.

  • What’s the policy? Find out if your company has a policy in place. The policy will usually include your rights, protections against retaliation and an outline of what happens if a claim is reported. Even if your company doesn’t have a policy, keep in mind that that according to the EEOC, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. You have the legal right to be protected from sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlines protections that Americans have in the workplace. Other state laws or employer policies may also protect you from sexual harassment.
  • Write it down: Write down what you plan to say to report the harassment, include specifics andclarify how the harassment has affected your ability to do your job. Whether or not you ultimately decide to file a complaint, it can be useful to keep track of the times you have felt harassed and the types of harassment you have experienced.
  • Voice your concern: If you feel comfortable speaking to the person directly, politely but firmly tell them to stop, citing specific behaviors that make you uncomfortable. You can send them a letter if you don’t feel comfortable talking in person.
  • Tell someone: If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the offender directly, report the harassment to your superior, your harasser’s superior or your HR department. How you should go about this will depend on your company’s individual policies.
  • Follow up in writing: If, at any time, you feel as though your company is not handling your case promptly or appropriately, send a follow-up e-mail in writing.
  • File a complaint with the EEOC: If you've already reported harassment at work and the employer won't take action, filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the next step. Depending on your state, you have 180 or 300 days from the date of discrimination to file. You are protected from retaliation if you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
  • Get a good lawyer: Contact an employment lawyer in your state to see if you can get someone who understands sexual harassment. It is frequently your word against the harasser's, so you’ll want someone to bolster your case.

Check out tips on how to deal with an office bully and identify and deal with five types of problem co-workers.