BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Every year, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles approximately 12,500 work-related sexual harassment charges.

According to one source, the statistic above doesn’t even include the estimated 58% of women who are harassed on the job and choose not to file a complaint. 

Why some victims stay mum

But, why would someone who has experienced harassment choose to stay quiet?

According to Dr. Zoe Chance of Psychology Today, “Whatever the outcome of speaking up, it can influence how everyone thinks of us.” 

Dr. Chance explained, “Speaking up means committing a tremendous amount of time and energy, and taking huge risks. The reporting and investigation take time (even years), in a process likely to humiliate us.”

Dr. Chance was specifically referring to women who choose not to reveal what they’ve been through, but individuals of any gender can become targets of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

When such traumatizing incidents occur, they can leave the targeted individual with a sense of confusion. They may wonder if they’re overreacting if they even have the right to speak up, or who they should talk to. 

Defining sexual harassment in the workplace

The first step in understanding how to handle sexual harassment on the job is to know exactly what it is. 

According to the EEOC, it includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. It can also include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it’s against the law to offend a woman by making insulting comments about women in general.

That said, simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious are not considered harassment. 

However, when aggressive pressure or intimidation in the workplace is frequent and so severe that it creates a hostile environment, this oversteps the boundaries of what is lawful and is labeled as illegal harassment.

An example of sexual harassment in the workplace would be unwanted touching. This might include one worker or employer approaching a colleague to intentionally and inappropriately pinch, brush up against, pat, or rub them.

An incident that would not be considered sexual harassment would be an off-handed joke. This might be illustrated by one colleague jokingly pointing out to a fellow colleague how poorly their favorite baseball team performed in a recent game. While the joke may hurt the fan’s feelings, it is likely not a form of sexual harassment. 

How to handle cases of harassment at work

While it remains up to the target of the harassment how to handle an incident, many legal experts suggest:

  1. Firmly telling the harasser to stop and explaining that their behavior is unwanted.
  2. Reporting the incident to management/someone with decision-making authority and asking that something be done to stop it. 
  3. If the harassment continues after management has attempted to address it, consider filing a harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

Resources 

Individuals who’ve experienced sexual harassment and want to talk to someone who is trained to help can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at www.online.rainn.org  

Other helpful resources to consider are:

9 to 5: National Association of Working Women

1-800-522-0925 or helpline@9to5.org

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

1-800-669-4000

Equal Rights Advocates

1-800-839-4372

24-hr line: 415-621-0505 or info@equalrights.org