Workplace Sexual Harassment: Recognition, Response & Recovery

Workplace Sexual Harassment: Recognition, Response & Recovery
Sexual harassment can happen anywhere. In certain situations, there is a simple solution to dealing with it, but if it's workplace sexual harassment, happening somewhere a person spends the majority of their waking hours and is supposed to feel safe, it's both disruptive and disturbing.

Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment

  • Quid pro quo: Also called tangible employment action harassment, this occurs when a decision about an employee's position (termination, demotion, promotion or raise) is based on whether or not he/she submits to the sexually harassing behavior. For instance, when an employee is promised a raise or promotion in exchange for a sexual favor with a superior.
  • Hostile environment: This is severe harassment that interferes with an employee's duties and performance. This includes posting explicit cartoons or jokes directed at a specific person or group of employees, distribution of pornographic pictures or videos in the workplace, or regularly making lewd comments to a specific or group of employees (of a particular sex or gender).
It is possible for harassing conduct to come from a supervisor or boss, but this isn't always the case. It could come from a fellow coworker, a client or customer, or even someone else employed in the building.

A Victim's Response

It's common for victims to want to just ignore the sexually harassing conduct and hope it stops, but this isn't only ineffective in making it stop – it can also make it worse. More efficient courses of action may include:
  • Telling the person performing the harassing conduct that the attention isn't welcome and that he/she has to stop.
  • Reporting the conduct to your manager or other official so there is a record of it.
  • Contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filing a formal complaint.
If you're ever unsure of a potentially offensive situation, try asking the person to explain his/her remarks or actions so any possible misunderstandings can be discussed and/or avoided.
If sexual assault or rape has occurred, immediately report the crime to law enforcement, go to the hospital emergency department or call 911.

An Employer's Responsibilities

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring the work environment is both safe and civil for your employees:
  • Communicate to all employees that workplace harassment of any kind isn't tolerated.
  • Provide training to all employees on what constitutes sexual harassment.
  • Develop a process for submitting complaints and reporting offensive behavior and know who to contact for assistance.
  • Maintain records of employee complaints to keep track of possible patterns.
Apart from communication and protocol, employers should also be knowledgable on steps to correct harassing conduct. Appropriate action needs to be swift and the victim should be protected from any retaliation.

Helping with Recovery

Depending on the severity, workplace sexual harassment may have lasting effects on a victim. Victims may feel depressed, ashamed, angry, lonely or anxious. They may also blame themselves and feel guilty for the harassment. If you're a victim of sexual harassment, consider calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) for support and counseling. For more resources, visit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). Remember: You're entitled to feel whatever emotions you're feeling and healing will take time. For employers: If an incident has just occurred, don't leave the victim alone, and call 911. Be supportive and listen, but refrain from judging the situation or asking for too many details. If the victim works for a team you supervise, assure him/her that you personally are concerned for his/her welfare, as is the organization. For more information on Work Life & Safety products available to purchase for your community, browse the Quickseries® library of guides, including Sexual Harassment in the Workplace