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Sexual Harassment On the Job? How to Deal

Jan 6, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Most people who sexually harass others do it for power, not sexual desire. The aim is to humiliate and control the victim. The people most vulnerable to sexual harassment are the people the least eager to make waves and draw attention to themselves at work—usually lower-ranking employees whose jobs are less secure. Common victims of sexual harassment include women in low-paying jobs and, increasingly, recent grads.

The law requires your workplace to provide a safe environment for all workers, free of the threat of sexual harassment. If you are the victim of sexual harassment, keeping quiet may only make your situation worse.

Here are some steps to take.

First Know What Sexual Harassment Is

“Quid Pro Quo” requirements

Woman Saying No

Most people who sexually harass others do it for power, not sexual desire.


This phrase, translated as “this for that,” includes situations where a worker is required to submit to unwanted sexual advances in return for promotions, assignments, continued employment, or other working conditions. In this case, the harasser is someone who has the authority to carry out any threats he or she makes—or appears to have that authority.

Hostile work environments

This occurs when a worker is harassed on the basis of his or her gender—making the work environment uncomfortable, intimidating, or offensive to the worker. It’s easiest to prove a hostile work environment has been created when the harassment happens on a repeated, continuous basis; however, even a single incident can cause such an environment.

Rewards for sexual behavior

It’s considered harassment when a supervisor gives special rewards to workers who respond favorably to sexual propositions, and withholds job benefits, good working conditions, and other perks to those who do not accept sexual advances. This is easiest to prove when two workers are more or less equally qualified; only one has responded to sexual advances and the other has not.

Harassment based on gender

If your coworkers or supervisor plays a prank on you or makes derogatory or offensive comments solely because you are male or female, this could also constitute harassment. The harassment may not be obviously sexual in nature, but if it creates a difficult work environment for the targeted employee, it could be against the law.

Indirect harassment

Even if you are not the victim of sexual harassment yourself, a hostile work environment could be created if you witness it. If a supervisor or someone in power retaliates against you because you complained about acts of harassment, you may be the victim of unlawful behavior as well.

If You are the Target: What to Do

Complain to the appropriate authorities

Make sure the harasser and the authorities at your workplace know that the harassment is going on and you are not OK with it. The appropriate person to talk to depends on your company and the situation—and may be your manager, your manager’s manager, or your Human Resources office. It’s important to complain—if you file a lawsuit later, the fact that you didn’t could be used in court against you to suggest that the sexual advances were welcome.

File an official complaint

Every employer has the responsibility of providing a safe workplace free of harassment. By law, every company must have an anti-harassment policy that is both effective and well-advertised. There must be a process for filing complaints, policies to protect the victims against retaliation, and remedies that work. If you don’t file an official complaint through the appropriate channels, the employer may argue in court that it is not liable for the harassment if you bring a lawsuit.

File a grievance

You may be able to file a grievance against the company. Your employment contract should include a non-discrimination clause, and if you are being harassed in the workplace, your company may be in breach of that clause.

Keep careful track of occurrences

Document when the harassment occurs, where it occurs, and write down the names of witnesses present if there are any. In addition, write down the harasser’s specific behavior and words as well as you can remember. Keep all your notes in one place. This could be used as valuable proof to build your case if there is a lawsuit.


In some cases, your company may start by offering to mediate a reconciliation between you and the harasser. The matter may be as simple as the harasser issuing an apology for a small misunderstanding. However, for larger issues, larger action must be taken. Possible actions might include firing the harasser or other repercussions. If your company refuses to take steps to improve your situation, you may have to file a lawsuit.


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