Harassment, specifically of a sexual nature, can be difficult to identify and define in the workplace. Sarcasm, innuendo, and suggestive insinuation have become a pervasive part of our culture and social interactions. Drawing a line between what is appropriate in the workplace and what has become acceptable for casual situations can be difficult especially when you spend time socially with your co-workers.
It is important to fully understand what sexual harassment is, how you can avoid it, and what to do when you are confronted with it. Research government and business websites on employment related articles on this specific subject can help you. Knowing this will help you feel confident in your right to feel safe and secure at your job, in school, or in your daily interactions.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Essentially, any behavior and conversation, unwanted or otherwise, that is sexual in nature and thereby creates a hostile environment is illegal.
The EEOC states that, “although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or sever that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment…” Additionally it is illegal for an individual to be fired or demoted upon the basis of refusing to respond or comply with unwanted advances and behaviors.
What Should You Do When Harassed?
The first thing you should do is educate yourself. Learn exactly what your employer’s policies and reporting procedures are and introduce yourself and get to know the individuals in your employment to whom you should report any issues. It is always easier to report these types of things to a person that you have developed a trusting relationship with.
Sexual harassment is best handled by preventing it altogether. As mentioned above, the law doesn’t prohibit teasing or off-hand comments made in passing. But you have every right to not allow them and insist on being respected and treated in a professional manner. Stopping the behavior immediately and refusing to allow yourself to be treated that way will usually eliminate any risk of the situation escalating.
Often if a pattern of teasing and innuendo is allowed to go on unchecked, the harasser is able to delude themselves into thinking that the victim enjoys it. Don’t let the first instances of teasing go. Address the issue immediately. Then, if the situation escalates, you have sufficient grounds and proof to illustrate a pattern of unwanted inappropriate attention and behavior.
Again, the key to being able to successfully handle these types of situations is to educate yourself. Seek out resources that will prepare you to respond with a level head and in a professional manner. Online sexual harassment trainings are available and many large companies and institutions offer their own trainings as well. As G.I. Joe tells us, “knowing is half the battle.” So learn, prepare, and know your rights when it comes to interacting with your associates and feeling safe in your workplace.
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