Dealing with Harassment at Work
This article is just one in a series of guest posts written on internet safety, you can read the rest here.
Unfortunately, abuse is prevalent in work environments. According to one study, one in three women ages 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work. 25% of those women were harassed online via texts or emails, yet 71% of these women did not report it. We can only speculate the reasons for this, but one could be because sexual harassment is not clearly defined. However, some examples of sexual harassment include:
Sharing sexually inapproporiate images or videos.
Sending letters, texts, or emails with suggestive content.
Telling lewd jokes or sexual anecdotes.
But even these are ambiguous! If someone sends a dick pick, that is clearly sexual harassment, but an off-handed comment could be misconstrued.
So, how do you know it’s sexual harassment?
For those moments where you’re not sure, think about how you feel. Did that comment make you uncomfortable? Is there something off-putting about it? If yes, chances are there’s an underlying tone that should be considered sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment comes in different forms, and when it’s online it’s often even less obvious. Yet, it still happens. If you’re in a professional situation where you feel uncomfortable, you should immediately start recording it. Often larger cases are built on a pattern of small incidents, which, if not documented properly, won’t be useful as evidence.
Even if you’re not sure if an encounter counts as harassment, it’s better to treat it as such just in case the situation gets worse and you decide to eventually take action.
How to Report Harassment
1. Document Every Encounter
Any comment, inappropriate email, or other correspondence that can possibly qualify as harassment should be recorded and stored somewhere where only you have access to it (not on the company’s Google Drive, for instance). It could be that one comment was unintentional, but if it happens again, you’ll be able to build a case.
If an encounter involves something said verbally or inappropriate touching, as soon as possible, write yourself an email (from your personal account) describing the incident in as much detail as you can. Include the time, date, and location of the incident.
2. Monitor the Situation
Take screenshots, record times and dates, save emails, and keep a file of everything that makes you uncomfortable.
3. Report It
Once you have evidence, it’s time to file a report. While it is sometimes uncomfortable, reporting harassment in the office is one of the most productive ways you can stop it.
Send your evidence to the HR department, which hopefully already has a policy in place as to how to proceed. If there is no HR at your company, then you should construct a well-informed email and send it to office management or to your manager (as long as they are not the one harassing you).
How to Write an Email to Report Sexual Harassment
It can seem daunting to construct that first email. For this reason, we included a template for you to use.
Subject line: Official complaint of sexual harassment
Dear [HR] and [boss],
I am writing this email to notify you that [name of harasser] has been sexually harassing me for the past [x amount of time].
The following incidents have occured during that time:
[Example 1: Describe what happened and when. Try to include as many facts as possible. ]
[Example 2: Describe the second incident that made you feel uncomfortable. Remember to include if you told anyone else at work about it.]
[Example 3: Attach any documents or evidence that will support your case.]
[If applicable, include what actions you believe the company should take. For instance, you can write, “I would like to be transferred to a different department” or “I would like this matter to be looked into, and I would like a formal apology from [name of harasser].”]
Thank you for looking into this matter. Should you need any more information, I am happy to provide it.
Your employer should have a policy on how to assess the situation and take action.
If you don’t feel as though your complaint was adequately addressed, remember that you can always seek outside legal counsel. A professional well-versed in the laws in your area should be able to guide you in your next steps.
We should also note that for many, reporting the incident internally is not an option, as many women freelance or are self-employed. In this scenario, you need to take the situation into your own hands.
Sexual Harassment if You’re Self-Employed
If you’re self-employed and experience an inappropriate encounter, since there’s no one to report to, you need to take care of the situation yourself.
This is exactly what happened to Ariel*, a musician who received sexually charged messages from another professional in her industry. After commenting on the way she shakes while playing music, Ariel responded “don’t be an ass” to which the harasser responded “Oh, I love the way you talk.”
While Ariel decided not to publicly shame him, she did respond that his comments were suggestive and aggressive. The harasser disagreed and left it at that.
Ariel found it empowering to confront the harasser head on. Others may find that the best method of self-preservation is to ignore the harassers. There’s no right or wrong way to address harassment in this scenario. It is your decision.
Sexual Harassment on LinkedIn
LinkedIn, an online platform for career-networking and business, has unfortunately also become an outlet for sexual harassment. While LinkedIn’s policy prohibits any form of harassment, there’s no way for LinkedIn to totally prevent it, and – unfortunately – sexual harassment still happens there every day.
Because it’s a networking site, some treat it like a dating site. Among other complaints, women have reported men sending them inappropriate messages, and making lewd comments on their appearance based on their profile pictures.
Another potential pitfall: your resume.
Many people upload their resumes without considering that their email address and phone number appear in the header. Unless you want the entire internet to have access to that information, delete it from the version you post.
Unwanted phone calls asking to go out may not seem like sexual harassment to some men, but for women receiving phone calls from strangers, it could definitely feel like it.
But, that’s the problem. Because most harassment is not so blatant, it’s harder for women to validate and report it. While you can’t prevent creepy guys from messaging you on LinkedIn, there are ways you can protect yourself:
Before accepting a LinkedIn connection, check the degrees of separation. Do you have connections in common? Do they work in your industry? If not, don’t accept.
If you receive an unsolicited message, you can decide to block them. Just click on the three dots at the top right and then click Report this conversation.
You can also block that person from viewing your profile or contacting you. Go to the person’s profile, click More>Report/Block and follow the instructions.
If you upload your resume, check to make sure your phone number, home address, and other contact information are not listed. If someone wants to contact you for your work, they can do it through LinkedIn.
There is no guarantee that these suggestions will protect you 100%. However, they do provide you with more control regarding who can contact you.