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Dealing with Harassment at Work

Working in corporate America is never easy. It’s almost like being a parent actually. You have to balance your workload, learning new software or strategies, keep up with changes in your department, be friendly with your co-workers, and sometimes, you have to deal with people who aren’t acting their age.

Harassment comes in many forms in the workplace. You may encounter someone who wants your job and will stop at nothing to get you out of the way. Or maybe you have a coworker who just doesn’t like you and makes sure you and everyone else in the office knows how they feel. Or you may have someone who has set their sights on getting you into bed.

Sexual harassment has received the most press over the years, but there are other types that are just as unlawful as off-color jokes, inappropriate touching or the use of indecent gestures or suggestions. The U.S. Department of Labor also considers an exchange of favors to be unlawful – such as being fired for not sleeping with the boss, or demoted if you don’t participate in a religious activity.

However, while these instances are unlawful, you may also be faced with non-sexual or non-religious harassment that makes the workplace almost unbearable. Short of filing a lawsuit or quitting to rectify the situation, there are other options you may pursue that aren’t nearly as drastic.

Several years ago  − ok, more than several years − I was working as a liaison between a hospital and an outside agency, while heading up a treatment team that reported to a manager who didn’t understand any of what the position was responsible for. It was an interesting position to find myself in, and not a fun one.

I was in the position for a little over two years before the situation got so bad I felt forced to quit. One of the people on the team, who didn’t report directly to me, enjoyed talking about me to her new best friend – my boss. We ended up in mediation at the hospital, as mandated by my boss. The mediator told my boss I was not to blame, but my boss still made me apologize to the woman in front of the medical director.

It was a nasty situation and one I was blessed to be able to leave rather quickly once I made up my mind to go.

Interestingly, the woman my boss chose to take my place left her previous place of employment after embezzling from the organization and was subsequently fired “for cause” within six months.

During my tenure at the treatment center, and after I left, I researched some of the strategies I could use in order to address the issues − or at least reduce the problems it was causing in my life. Although I followed many of these suggestions, it didn’t work out for me. Hopefully, if you’re experiencing some type of harassment these suggestions will help you.

 

  1. Your first tactic is to become familiar with the harassment policy in effect at your place of work. When you know what and who at work can help you resolve the situation it can reduce your initial anxiety.
  1. You must consider how to protect yourself – both your job and your personal safety. If you even think the harassment MIGHT involve your personal safety, it’s important you pay attention.

Never publicize where you’ll be or where you are online or social media. Change your locks, let the police know your concerns and file a report, let your neighbors know, screen your calls and put a recording app on your phone. Since recording phone calls without the person’s knowledge is illegal, be sure you let people know if you record the conversation. Don’t answer the phone when you don’t recognize the phone number – if they really want to get in touch they’ll leave a message.

  1. Confide in someone about what’s happening at work. This gives you an objective eye to the situation and the support you’ll need moving forward. Talking is always the answer.
  1. Make it clear to the person who’s giving you trouble that you consider the behavior harassment. Be sure to have the conversation when there is another person present who can attest to what was said. You may not be comfortable with direct confrontation, so you may want to practice what to say and how beforehand.
  1. Don’t apologize for saying you’re uncomfortable with the other person’s behavior. You have nothing to apologize for – and if you do apologize, the other person may see it as a sign of weakness, increasing the harassment. If you HAVE something you should apologize – then do it. Otherwise, stick with the facts.
  1. Talk about the behavior you don’t like and not the person. Ask them to stop any contact with you and any conversations they are having about you behind your back.
  1. If you must communicate with this person at work, be sure your direct boss knows exactly what’s happening. Document all conversations. Save all emails and write down all phone or personal conversations with dates, times and subject.
  1. If a simple conversation with the individual isn’t enough to stop the behavior, then request mediation from your workplace. If a mediator isn’t part of the staff, your employer can bring one to your workplace resolve the situation.
  1. If the harassment doesn’t stop or is unlawful, you’ll want to report it to your manager (or your manager’s manager if it’s your boss doing the harassing) and to human resources. If the situation doesn’t resolve, seek the advice of an attorney well-versed in the subject. Your employer may be liable for any harassment perpetrated by a supervisor if they are notified and take no action.

Going through a situation in which you feel you’re being harassed or treated unfairly at work is disconcerting and difficult. Although you may not want to, leaving may be the only choice you have. If your workplace continues to allow this type of behavior to continue, then it’s ingrained in the culture of the community and no matter how much you fight the current situation, it’s likely not to change. In this case, leaving may be the only option that will give you relief from the harassment.

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