We live in the era of #MeToo. Victims are being empowered to speak out and, finally, the public is more willing to listen.
Sadly, this doesn’t mean workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past. Harassers still abuse their power and plenty of people still respond to claims of harassment with skepticism.
What can you do to stop sexual harassment or hold the harasser accountable?
1. Make a Detailed Record of the Harassment: Harassment is often carried out behind closed doors with no witnesses. Thus, it often comes down to a matter of “he said, she said.”
The best way to get people to believe you over your harasser is to make a record of the harassment. It is hard for a harasser to deny what he said if it is recorded. If you have a smartphone and you live in a state where it is legal to record without announcing it, there are a number of apps that would enable you to record the harassment in action.
If recording the conversation is not an option, keep a journal of each incident of harassment. As soon as feasible after the harassment occurs, write down what happened. Be as detailed as you can. People are more likely to believe an account written down when your memory was fresh as opposed to recollection months years later.
2. Make It Clear the Harassment Is Unwanted. This shouldn’t be necessary, but clarity is still the best response to the oft-repeated defense of “I didn’t know it was unwelcome.” Tell the harasser to stop and directly state the actions are unwelcome. If possible, record your objection or put it in writing.
3. Report the Harassment. Many employers have written policies against harassment. The best such policies provide for a way to bypass harassing supervisors to report the harassment (for instance, to Human Resources). If these options exist, use them. Make the complaint in writing to the extent possible. Be detailed.
If your employer does the right thing, this should be the end of the harassment. If not, then your employer has no defense when you try to hold it accountable in a later lawsuit.
4. Talk to Others. If there’s anything the #MeToo movement has taught us, it is that you are not alone. If the harasser is harassing you, it is likely he has harassed someone else first. Talk to people who worked for this harasser before or who work for him now. Observe whether anybody else appears uncomfortable around the harasser. The more people who tell their story, the more likely the harasser is going down.
Be careful: Not every coworker is your ally. If they report to the harasser, some may lie to keep their job. Use your judgment.
5. Find a lawyer. A good attorney, like a skilled sexual harassment attorney, can advise you of your rights and how to best protect yourself.