Dealing with Sexual Harassment at Work

By Paula Santonocito

smw - dealing with sexual harassmentYou work for an older man who has been coming onto you. At first you thought you were misreading the signals and that he was just being nice, but lately he has become more aggressive. He’s even gone so far as to say that if you got to know each other better it could mean good things for your career. It feels like you’re living a movie from another era.

The high-powered male boss who lures the young woman to the bedroom with promises of the boardroom is indeed a stereotype. But, like a lot stereotypes, it’s born of reality.

As difficult as it may be to believe, not that long ago there was little protection from such behavior in the workplace. However, in 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines indicating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was extended to forbid sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. In other words, sexual harassment became against the law.

What does this mean to you?

Essentially, that your job description doesn’t require dealing with unwanted advances from the boss. You can put a halt to this behavior immediately.

Still, even though you have the law on your side, you are in a difficult situation. Assuming you like your job and, for the most part, like your boss, do you want to claim harassment? Perhaps not initially.

You may want to try talking to your boss first, using the next time he makes an inappropriate remark as the starting point for the conversation. You might say something along the lines of, “I like working for you and I like my job, but I am not interested in the kind of relationship you’re suggesting. I want to keep our relationship professional. I hope you can understand and respect my position.”

Then it’s up to him. Depending on what he says (or does) in response will determine what you must do next.

Hopefully he will back off and not harbor any ill feelings. But what if he doesn’t?

There’s one more conversation you can have. Again, wait for him to make an inappropriate remark and then let him know that you’ve tried to talk to him about this before and that unless he’s clear about what you’re saying you have no choice but to bring this situation to someone’s attention.

What if he persists?

You’ve given him two chances to change his behavior. Now don’t hesitate to report the situation to human resources. Be advised that it will trigger an investigation into your claim, and your boss will be confronted.

But don’t worry that this will reflect negatively on you. The law is on your side. Your company realizes this and it will do its best to remedy the situation. The days when women (or men, for that matter) had to put up with sexual harassment in the workplace are gone.

Give your boss an opportunity to get his act together. If he doesn’t, get the Civil Rights Act into the act. You don’t have to be a victim.

Additional resources: For more information about sexual harassment in the workplace, check out “Preventing Sexual Harassment: A Fact Sheet for Employees,” a publication prepared by an attorney, available at the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

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