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Dealing with Sexual Harassment

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Dealing with Sexual Harassment

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

Usually, I like to keep things light around here and make this an amusing (and informative) stop during your work day. But recently I was e-mailed a very serious question, and I feel that it's my responsibility to address it with the solemnity it deserves.

You would think in today's society - with all the information and legislation there is out there - that sexual harassment would be a thing of the past. Well, unfortunately for some people, it's come back into style in their workplaces.

A woman we'll call "Miranda" reached out to me for advice because she is being sexually harassed in her office. A co-worker has been continually stepping over the line with off-color jokes, comments and even gestures of a sexual nature. Miranda explains that he does it in such a way that it's never really overt or obvious, and no one else in the office seems to mind. But it bothers her; it makes her feel uncomfortable, and she worries that if she reports it, she'll be the one cast in a poor light.

To Miranda and all of the other people out there who are in similar situations, the first thing I want to tell you is that if someone is making you feel uncomfortable at work, YOU NEED TO TAKE ACTION.

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Sexual harassment is often more about power than sex. The key factor that turns some types of inappropriate behavior into sexual harassment in the workplace is that it is unwelcome by the victim. You don't want to hear his (or her) explicit jokes; you don't want any physical contact from him (or her). That kind of behavior is UNWELCOME and therefore must be stopped, especially if it is interfering with your ability to perform your job by creating an intimidating, offensive, abusive or hostile work environment.

Categories of things that fall into the definition of sexual harassment include: inappropriate jokes, gestures or innuendos of a sexual nature, the displaying of sexually suggestive objects, photos or drawings; flirting, touching, or other bodily contact, or the blocking or impeding of physical movement. He (or she) may think they're being funny when they refuse to let you walk past their desk, but if it's unwelcome by you, it could be considered sexual harassment.

To eliminate sexual harassment in your work place, start to create a game plan for yourself. Understand if your organization has a policy and a procedure to follow for this type of complaint. Dig into your employee handbook and any procedural guides to find this information. If your organization doesn't have a formal sexual harassment policy, suggest to your supervisor that they should conduct training workshops. This would address the topic in a large group setting and not put you completely on the spot.

Be sure that you are documenting every incident, every offensive remark or gesture that is making you uncomfortable. Include the date, time, location, and any witnesses that may be observing the behavior. Whether other people are offended or not isn't the point: YOU are being made uncomfortable by it. Being able to have someone else corroborate this behavior will lend greater credibility to your complaint.

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Make it very clear to your harasser that what they are doing is offensive to you, that it's making you uncomfortable, and that it's keeping you from completing your work. Ask the harasser to stop the offensive conduct in a firm, matter-of-fact manner. If you still don't see any improvement, communicate your problem to a company official. They need to be made aware of the situation. When you meet with this official, bring a copy of the company's sexual harassment policy and your list of incidents and be prepared to go through everything with them.

Don't worry what light you are being cast in. You need to feel safe, secure and respected in your work environment. Take the appropriate action to resolve this even if it means requesting that your company initiate an investigation. Ask them to keep it as confidential as possible. If that doesn't work, then you have the option of retaining an attorney or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It's illegal for an employer to retaliate in any way against an employee that reports sexual harassment.

I hope that this information helps you, Miranda, and anyone else out there who is dealing with a sexual harassment situation at their job.

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�Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.� � Herbert Hoover