When we discuss sexual harassment at work, you might first imagine someone harassing you. However, even if someone finds themselves facing harassment, it can still harm you and your employment.
You want to work in an environment free from harassment, so you might want to take action to stop someone else from experiencing this distressing conduct. But how do you do that? What steps can you take to help your fellow employees and the workplace in general?
If you are in this position, never hesitate to consult a sexual harassment attorney in San Diego immediately about your situation and legal options.
What Sexual Harassment Looks Like in the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace can range from subtle comments to overt actions that create an uncomfortable, hostile, or intimidating environment for individuals. Recognizing the different manifestations of sexual harassment can help prevent and address this pervasive issue.
Below are some common ways sexual harassment can manifest in the workplace.
Verbal sexual harassment involves unwelcome comments, jokes, or remarks of a sexual nature. This can include making explicit remarks about a person’s appearance, body, clothing, or sexual activities. Such comments can humiliate and degrade someone and create an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Unwanted sexual advances or propositions constitute harassment. This includes pressuring someone for dates, sexual favors, or engaging in inappropriate discussions about personal relationships or sexual experiences.
Innuendos and Insults
Using suggestive language, double entendres, or sexual innuendos to insult or belittle someone constitutes sexual harassment. Perpetrators can mask these comments as jokes but aim them to demean someone and create a hostile environment.
Sexual Comments or Questions
Asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal or sexual life, making comments about their body or clothing, or discussing explicit topics in a professional setting constitutes sexual harassment.
Displaying Inappropriate Materials
Sharing or displaying sexually explicit images, videos, or materials in the workplace, whether in person or through digital means, can create a hostile environment and constitutes sexual harassment.
Unwanted Touching or Physical Contact
Any unwanted physical contact, such as touching, hugging, kissing, or brushing against someone without their consent constitutes sexual harassment. Even seemingly innocent actions can constitute harassment if they make the recipient uncomfortable.
Using threats, blackmail, or other forms of intimidation to coerce someone into engaging in unwanted sexual behavior is a severe form of sexual harassment. Harassment often comes from a manager, boss, or someone with the authority to take adverse action against an employee or provide additional career benefits.
With the rise of digital communication, online sexual harassment has become prevalent. Sending explicit messages, sharing inappropriate content, or engaging in cyberbullying of a sexual nature can create a hostile virtual environment.
Hostile Work Environments Affect Everyone
A hostile work environment develops when the cumulative effect of unwelcome sexual comments, behavior, or imagery makes the workplace intimidating, offensive, or uncomfortable. You might think harassment creates a hostile work environment for a victim when, in reality, it can exist for anyone who witnesses or knows about the persisting harassment.
You do not have to work in a hostile environment due to sexual harassment against anyone. If you are uncomfortable with the unlawful conduct you witness at work, you may take action to eliminate the hostility for yourself and everyone around you.
What to Do if You Witness Sexual Harassment at Work
Witnessing sexual harassment in the workplace can be distressing and confusing. Take the right steps to address the situation not only for the victim’s well-being but also to promote a safe and respectful work environment.
If you witness sexual harassment at work, here’s what you can do:
- Stay calm and observant – If you witness an incident of sexual harassment, remain composed. Pay close attention to the details of what you see or hear, including the individuals involved, the location, the context, and any relevant comments or actions. This information will help if you or the victim decides to report the incident.
- Assess the situation – Determine whether the behavior you’re witnessing is indeed sexual harassment. Sexual harassment encompasses a range of behaviors, as mentioned earlier. Assess if the actions or comments are unwelcome, create an uncomfortable or hostile environment, and involve inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature.
- Prioritize safety – If the situation appears to escalate or become confrontational, prioritize safety. Find a way to intervene or remove yourself and others from the situation if necessary.
- Support the victim – If you witness sexual harassment and feel comfortable doing so, offer support to the victim. Approach them privately and express your concern. Tell them you’re there to listen, offer assistance, and support their decisions. Avoid blaming or pressuring the victim to take immediate action.
- Document the incident – Write down a detailed account of what you witnessed as soon as possible after the incident. Include information about the individuals involved, the date, time, location, actions, and any statements made. Documenting the incident can help if the victim decides to report it.
- Encourage reporting – If the victim is comfortable and willing, encourage them to contact a sexual harassment lawyer. Explain the importance of reporting and the potential impact on the work environment.
- Consider reporting the incident yourself – If the victim won’t report the incident themselves or is too intimidated, yet you believe that the behavior warrants intervention, you can report the incident on their behalf. Talk to a lawyer about how to best follow your organization’s policies and procedures and for guidance on how to file a report as a witness. Be ready to share your observations, documentation, and any relevant details.
- Maintain confidentiality – If the victim decides to report the incident, or if you report it on their behalf, maintain confidentiality as much as possible. Sharing details without the victim’s consent can further harm their well-being and potentially compromise the investigation.
- Cooperate with investigations – If your organization investigates the incident, cooperate fully. Share your observations, provide any documentation you created, and participate in interviews if requested. Your insights can shed light on the context and severity of the harassment.
Addressing sexual harassment is a collective responsibility, so the victim is not the only one who can report concerns to your employer or the authorities when appropriate.
Can Your Employer Retaliate Against You for Reporting Sexual Harassment?
Many employees hesitate to report sexual harassment against them or others for fear of retaliation by an employer. Fortunately, an employer cannot legally retaliate against an employee for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, even if they are not the direct target of harassment.
Retaliation happens when an employer takes adverse actions against an employee as a response to their engagement in a legally protected activity, such as reporting harassment or participating in an investigation. Retaliation can happen against victims of harassment or anyone who lodges an informal or formal sexual harassment complaint.
Retaliation can come in various forms, including demotion, termination, reduced hours, unfavorable assignments, harassment, or creating a hostile work environment toward you. Even though such conduct is illegal, your employer might still do it if you report sexual harassment. This can affect your finances, career, and emotional and mental well-being.
If you believe your employer retaliated against you because you reported sexual harassment, you need legal representation from an employment lawyer immediately.
What Can You Do Now?
If you believe you witnessed sexual harassment at work and feel safe and appropriate reporting the matter, follow your employer’s procedures. Hopefully, they will take the steps to resolve the problem so you can continue to work in a harassment-free environment.
However, if you feel uncomfortable reporting the harassment or don’t know if the conduct was sexual harassment, seek legal advice from an experienced employment attorney who can guide you through the process and help you understand your rights.
An experienced employment lawyer will assess what you witnessed and advise whether it constitutes unlawful sexual harassment. They can evaluate your employment situation and determine the best course of action to report the harassment.
If internal channels fail to resolve the issue, your lawyer might suggest filing a complaint with relevant government agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state agency. These agencies can intervene and ensure your employer complies with all relevant employment and anti-harassment laws.
Keep records of any adverse actions your employer takes against you, even if you don’t know if they stem from your complaints or cooperation with investigations. Maintain records of communications related to the harassment or retaliation, including documentation of the initial harassment report.
If you think your employer violated your rights by failing to stop harassment or retaliating against you, act quickly to seek legal representation. Employment claims often have time limits for filing, so take action promptly if you believe you experienced unlawful conduct at work.
This is never an easy position to be in, but you are doing the right thing by standing up against sexual harassment. When you witness this conduct, you do not have to look the other way. You can file complaints and reports, help with investigations, and take action to protect your employment environment. There is legal support from an experienced San Diego employment lawyer when you need it.