Legal Guide

Four Things You Can Do if You Witness Sexual Harassment at Work

No one should ever have to put up with sexual harassment at work.

All citizens have legal rights to work in a safe environment. However, sexual harassment still, unfortunately, happens at the workplace; from coworkers, managers, or employers.

If you witness someone at work being sexually harassed, it can be challenging to know what to do for the best. So, check out the following things you can do.

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Types of Sexual Harassment

First off: a brief word about types of sexual harassment at work.

Sexual harassment covers a lot of different incidents, such as verbal harassment, unwanted attention, and male-victim sexual harassment. Here are some other common types.

Unwanted Touching Can Be Sexual Harassment

Physical sexual harassment includes things like overt grabbing of buttocks or breasts, but other forms of unwelcome physical touching can also be sexual offences.

Obscene or Offensive Gestures Can Be Sexual Harassment

When someone makes an obscene or offensive gesture at the workplace, it can also be regarded as sexual harassment.

Requests for Sexual Favors Can Be Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, many industries are rife with stories about job offers or promotions in return for sexual favors. Whether implied or overt, the sexual harassment of requesting sexual favors at the workplace is illegal under federal and state law in the U.S.

What You Can Do if You Witness Sexual Harassment at Work

If you witness someone being sexually harassed at work, you need to action. But knowing the best course of action to take can be tricky. Here are four options.

1.    Confront the Harasser

If you feel able to confront the harasser and you do not fear any retaliation from him or her, you should speak to the person you witnessed engaging in sexual harassment.

Keep your head and speak calmly. Be specific about the harasser’s conduct, let him or her know why it is unacceptable, and be clear that it must stop.

Never threaten the harasser. Do not get into an argument either. Also, be wary of using the name of the person you saw being sexually harassed, as that could end up causing the individual to be targeted more before further action can be taken; if the harasser ignores your words.

2.    Speak to a Manager

If you are uncomfortable speaking to the harasser, you should speak to a manager about the issue.

Make sure the person in authority is someone you feel comfortable talking with and is someone you know will take appropriate action.

By informing a manager, it is more likely the harasser’s behavior will stop. He or she could even be let go.

3.    Speak to the Victim

You should use your own judgment about whether to speak directly to the victim of the sexual harassment.

By speaking to the victim, you may be able to empower him or her to formally pursue a case of harassment by him or herself.

You should talk with empathy and start the conversation with something like, “Hey, I saw what happened the other day and I was not at all comfortable with it. I think something should be done about it, but I wanted to talk to you before notifying a manager.”

4.    Take Notes When You Witness Sexual Harassment

Hopefully, the person who has conducted the sexual harassment will be held accountable for his or her actions. If the sexual harassment case ends up going to court, or even if it is dealt with internally, it will help to have witnesses and evidence to prove the case.

So, whenever you see sexual harassment happening, in addition to considering the above steps you can take, make sure you record the incident you witnessed in writing, remembering to include the time and date of the incident, the people involved, details of what happened, and any witnesses that were present. 

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