Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment at Work
Recently, the story broke that Fox News spent millions of dollars to buy the silence of women who had reported being sexually harassed by host Bill O’Reilly. In response, the president of the United States sent a chilling message of support for the accused harasser, but not for his victims.
While this reaction may not be surprising – especially given the president’s personal track record – we cannot let it be normal. Especially when as many as 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18 and 34 have experienced workplace sexual harassment, and when sexual violence continues to cause untold physical, emotional, and economic harm to millions of women each year.
When Equal Rights Advocates’ Executive Director Noreen Farrell appeared on PBS Newshour last week to comment on the Fox News scandal, she was asked about “the right recourse” for someone who experiences sexual harassment at work. Listen to what Noreen had to say here or read below our summary of seven key steps you can take to protect yourself and your civil rights if you are being harassed at work:
- Learn the rules and know your rights. Read your company’s policy on sexual harassment and understand the steps you can take to report it internally. Read ERA’s “Know Your Rights” guide on sexual harassment at work.
- Tell the harasser to stop. Tell the person who’s harassing you personally if you feel safe doing so. If you don’t feel safe, consider writing them a letter or e-mail. If you don’t feel safe communicating with the person directly, then tell a supervisor or someone in human resources.
- Report the problem to your employer. Employers are supposed to provide a way for employees to report sexual harassment and legally may not retaliate against anyone for complaining. It may be difficult and scary, but to protect your rights you need to give your employer a chance to address the matter. If company policy is not clear about how or where to report harassment, then go to a supervisor or someone in human resources.
- Put it in writing. It’s a good idea to put your report or complaint in writing. If you initially report something verbally, memorialize the fact that you did so by putting it in writing afterward. This could be done by sending an e-mail or even a handwritten note that is dated and signed. Be sure to keep copies of any communications between you and your employer about the harassment.
- Make a record while you remember. Keep a journal to keep track of events and conversations, noting the dates, times, places, any witnesses to what happened and/or what was said, and any other details that stand out – like how something made you feel.
- Tell friends, family, and colleagues what you have experienced. Invoke the “power of the collective,” as Noreen said in the PBS interview. Discover that you’re not alone – that it wasn’t your fault – that there are things you can do to protect yourself and make it right.
- Seek legal advice. Unfortunately, many companies fail to investigate or properly respond to sexual harassment complaints. You may need to consult with a lawyer to ensure you are protected and that your job is not put in jeopardy.
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