Workplace Woes: Sexual Harassment in The Workplace
As part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment was included as a form of sexual discrimination, which protected women and men from consequences of filing a sexual harassment complaint. In 1991, Anita Hill testified at the Supreme Court by accusing then-nominee, Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Recently, we’ve seen many women and a few men bring their sexual harassment experiences in Hollywood to the forefront. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby, survivors are coming forward with their stories, while the offenders and violators are being forced to deal with the consequences. It’s sad to say that the reality that most women face is having to deal with some form of sexual harassment at least one time in their lives. From verbal harassment to unsolicited physical advances, being aware of how to maneuver around these offenses, and knowing the actions to take when harassed, is a part of our normalization.
Working in an uncomfortable and hostile environment is the last place where women should have to deal with harassment. Every employer handbook talks about sexual harassment and how it is prohibited. Yet according to statistics, 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with 51% experiencing it from their supervisor. I, too, have dealt with some form of sexual harassment while at work. While mainly mild transgressions, those feelings of vulnerability and disrespect are not foreign.
Fortunately, if you ever find yourself in a situation where your co-worker is getting too close for comfort, there are actions you can and should take. Of course, asking the offender to stop and letting them know how uncomfortable it makes you feel should be all that you need to say, but sadly that approach doesn’t always work. Make sure to document every encounter before you make the decision to file an official complaint. Being very specific and as thorough as possible is the ammunition that will fuel your case. It’s always better to provide solid proof of each encounter instead of just an accusation.
Many women aren’t brave enough to speak out against the offenders for fear of more harassment, humiliation, demotion, or the possibility of being fired. Don't quit just yet though! Quitting before filing your complaint means you can’t file a complaint with the company. Instead, consider taking legal steps whilst still employed. However, if the workplace gets to the point where you can no longer work there (which is completely understandable), then file the claim before you quit. That way, the company will still investigate your claim. Filing a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) should be the next step taken after filing with the company. Ideally, you have 180 calendar days to file charges from the last day the incident occurred, but depending on state and local laws, that time frame could differ.
As a society and as women, we have made progress in many ways since 1964. With marches and with movements like #MeToo, more women are speaking out loud and with assurance. They vocalize their courage for justice. Once apprehensive but now bold and no longer hiding, this progress gives other people their chance to turn their tribulation into triumph, one story at a time.