Despite in-depth training of employees and supervisors, harassment can still exist in the workplace. Because of the potential financial liability and to promote a safe working environment, businesses must outline and enforce anti-discrimination policies, which should include procedures for reporting this illegal activity.
The first step is, of course, recognizing when comments or actions exceed legal limits. Regardless of the protected category, the target or witness must first request cessation of the activity immediately. If it continues, harassment may exist.
It’s unfortunate that it may be required, but documenting instances and reconciliation attempts presents the best proof that a victim is being harassed. Documentation should include at least:
Time and date: Mistaking a date or time of day could undermine an attempt at reporting harassment. If the instigator was not at work or on the property during the dates or times reported, the harasser could have an alibi, and the investigation would end there.
Location: The harassment must be on business property. If the instances occurred off the property, the business can do nothing regarding a private matter.
Witnesses: While they are not required, witnesses that truthfully confirm the situation add validity to the complaint, making it hard to discredit or disavow.
Prior instances: Because “continuation of illegal behavior” is a requirement by law, full details of prior instances, comments or actions, and attempts to stop it must exist. Documenting the history-while not including every one-time instance-adds considerable weight to the complaint. Include exact quotes of all involved, location, participants, witnesses, and actions.
When the documentation is completed, the harassment victim should request an appointment with his supervisor. If the alleged perpetrator is the supervisor, request the appointment with the next manager in the chain of command. Give a brief reason for the request, and if possible, a copy of the documentation. (Presenting it in a sealed envelope protects privacy if desired.)
During the interview, be as calm as possible, factual, and professional. The harassment may have taken an emotional toll, but being acutely angry or distraught can hinder presenting facts. Having the written documentation will help, but the employee should be prepared to discuss the situation, as well. Doing so rationally will bolster the employee’s credibility.
After the Report
The reporting employee should maintain professional behavior toward the abuser. Whenever realistically possible during interaction, the employee should attempt to have others in the vicinity. When not possible, the employee should make any contact as brief as possible and only regarding work issues.
Quote: “Still, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that if you do not take your complaint of discrimination to human resources, you may lose your ability to sue your employer for on-the-job harassment under certain circumstances.”
Source: Richard Busse Fired, Laid Off or Forced Out: A Complete Guide to Severance, Benefits and Your Rights When You’re Starting Over
Quote: “Many women do not report sexual harassment out of fear that they will not be believed or because they think nothing can be done. Some are embarrassed or ashamed, and may think the harassment was their fault.”
Source: Mary L. Boland Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
“Questions and Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors”
Equal Rights Advocates
“ERA: Sexual Harassment at Work”