Top 10 Things You Need to Know If You're Sexually Harassed at Work

Sexually Harassed At Work You're not alone if you are confused about workplace sexual harassment. You may suspect you're being sexually harassed but aren't sure what to do. Or maybe you're being harassed because of your gender and don't realize what you're experiencing is illegal sexual harassment.

Here are the top nine things you need to know about sexual harassment at work:

1. Don't quit.

Many employees quit as soon as the first incident of sexual harassment occurs. They're too embarrassed or scared to go back. That's perfectly understandable, but if you quit, you might be giving up your sexual harassment claims. The Supreme Court says that, if your employer has a published sexual harassment policy, you must report the harassment under that policy and give the employer the opportunity to fix the situation. If you don't, you'll probably lose your sexual harassment lawsuit.

2. Look for the policy.

Check the employee handbook, posters in the lunch room, written policies, union contract – anywhere there might be a sexual harassment policy. Then follow those steps. Report it to the person designated by your employer to receive sexual harassment complaints. If they don't fix it, or if the first person designated is the harasser, go to the next person designated.

3. Put it in writing.

Even if the policy says to call or meet with someone, always put your complaint in writing. Detail every sexual comment, sexual advance, glimpse of pornography, inappropriate jokes or emails, anything that you've experienced or witnessed where women were treated differently than men or vice versa. Call it a "Formal Complaint of Sexual Harassment." Many employees tell me that they reported "a hostile environment," "bullying" or "harassment" without saying it was because of their sex. They tell me they "didn't want to go there." Sadly, you have to go there. General harassment, bullying and a hostile work environment aren't illegal and if you report it that way you're not protected from retaliation.

4. It doesn't have to be sexual.

Most people think of sexual harassment as unwanted sexual overtures, groping, and sexual remarks. That's only one kind of sexual harassment. If you are being harassed because you're a male or because you're a female, that's sexual harassment too. Whether you're assigned to less favorable shifts, given more difficult assignments, placed in less lucrative territories, or simply being demeaned, you need to report it. I usually call this type of harassment "gender-based harassment," rather than sexual harassment, to avoid confusion. But you still have to report it under your sexual harassment policy.

5. You probably can't sue for a single incident.

The courts say that the sexual harassment has to be so severe or so pervasive (meaning frequent) that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. A single comment, grope or inappropriate email probably isn't enough for a lawsuit, but it's worth reporting. Behavior that courts have rejected as not being sexual harassment has included calling at home, asking for dates, looking down a blouse, lifting up a skirt, one or two (or even four) instances of groping, single instances of disgusting comments, rubbing, and all types of extreme behavior.

6. They don't have to fire the harasser.

You shouldn't refuse to go back just because your employer didn't fire the harasser. The law doesn't require that. Appropriate remedies may be to discipline or warn the harasser, to move the harasser, to transfer the victim (under some circumstances), to do training or, in extreme cases, to terminate the harasser. If you did not avail yourself of the employer's policy before quitting, you are giving up your right to sue for a violation.

7. The employer must investigate.

That means they'll probably interview co-workers, the harasser and any witnesses you designate. That also means the harasser probably will figure out that you're the one who reported it. The employer might promise confidentiality, but c'mon -- how many people can he or she be harassing? Scary, but the courts say you have to do it anyhow. Most employees, no matter how terrified, tell me that they're relieved once they finally report it.

8. Keep reporting it.

It is the employer's duty to create a safe workplace. If you are retaliated against or continue to be harassed, report it again. If the employer allows retaliation or continued harassment, that is the time to report it to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or to get an attorney involved.

9. You're not alone.

Sexual harassment is more about power than about sex. The harasser who gets away with small violations will usually accelerate the behavior until stopped. That means you're probably not the first victim. Someone has to be the first one to come forward. If your employer turns its head at this type of behavior, they run the risk of being held strictly liable for the sexual harassment or even incurring punitive damages.

10. It's time to quit.

OK, I know the first thing I said was, "don't quit." That's generally true. But you have to quit if you aren't going to be safe, if you're being driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown, or if the harasser becomes physically threatening and your employer won't protect you. No case is worth getting hurt. The courts say you're only justified in quitting if no reasonable person would tolerate the behavior. That means that you have an almost impossible hurdle to overcome if you sue after quitting. So only quit if you're truly risking your health, welfare or sanity, or if you have another job lined up.

If you are harassed or are in a hostile work environment due to your gender, make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities. Know your employer's policy and report it in writing so you preserve your right to sue down the road. You have the right to work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment.

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I want to know how many times is too many? Someone at my old job was sexually harassing a lot of people there. I ended up being one of his victims. I turned him in and found out I was not the first to report him yet they kept this young man on for 4 months while working on promoting him before they finally fired him. Many many more people came forward to report but the company did nothing! What is the deal with that? I feel like my complaint was swept under a rug because it all started with my favorite band but was harassment of my age and then he started asking me very uncomfortable questions about sex. How is this allowed in a workplace for him to go on and continue doing to after more then 2 people had come forward? This upsets me.

July 18 2014 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm a 42 old male and am harressed by my co workers. I catch a lot of guys making homosexual gestures at me and they might be joking but I don't joke like that.I became a Christian over a year ago I'm not gay or never was but because I will not rise up and fight physically or cuss at them they will not stop.I thought about reporting it but even the supervisors do it as well.they think it's funny and I just keep seeing them laughing at me .I don't know what to do but pray and believe me I have to pray a lot.I guess maybe it's my fault because I was never a real sociable person and people just think I'm weird or something. But it hurts me deeply when I try to be friends with someone and I see them smirking because there's someone in the background making fun of me.and I catch them doing that a I just stay working to the point I can't even go to the cafeteria anymore because I'll just sit there and see people m making fun of me even sit in front of me making these oral gestures .what would u do?

February 21 2014 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to abelleos's comment

I am experiencing the same thing and have contacted lawyers. I have had a guy grab my butt at work. Another describing his food to tasting like cum. Absolutely nasty and I am trying to sue. Guys joking and talking about homosexuality. I also have some other instances and lawyer do not want to take my case unless I get fired over it really. I am about to file reports on all claims which I suggest you do and if something happens because of it you should be able to sue for it. It is a serious matter to have to work in this environment and I can not stand it personally. I am still researching what I have to do.
Good luck to you.

May 20 2014 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tami Menzed

it's shitty being a woman, we have to worry bout so many things

February 18 2014 at 5:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm considered a very efficient worker and called "a one man show" at work because they never have to worry about my productivity and I easily handle all problems without making a big deal. There is a guy that greets me all the time very nicely and jokes around with me in an appropriate way but behind my back belittles me sexually (since I'm not straight) with whichever new pretty girl is hired at the time to gain points with them and amuse them. I have never let this guy know any sexual details about me even though he knows I'm not straight since it's known that I'm not married and don't have girfriends or care for any. After many incidents as described above, I'm confronting him yet again and if this time if it continues I will speak to his supervisor. If you are not straight and are reading this DO NOT let yourself be bullied at work, you are no less than anyone else even though articles like this don't even mention the situations like this.

January 12 2013 at 7:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The courts say that the sexual harassment has to be so severe or so pervasive (meaning frequent) that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. A single comment, grope or inappropriate email probably isn't enough for a lawsuit, but it's worth reporting. Behavior that courts have rejected as not being sexual harassment has included calling at home, asking for dates, looking down a blouse, lifting up a skirt, one or two (or even four) instances of groping, single instances of disgusting comments, rubbing, and all types of extreme behavior."
Are you kidding me! !!!!!!! Really !!!! This kind of stuff effects the MIND, the way harassed people perceive things after they have been harassed. They begin to view life as a whole in a whole other way. It effects their work performance at other jobs, their relationships with family or kid, showing their kids a solitary type of life so it can effect their kids out reach for help if they fell in that type of situation. So "one or two (or even four) instances of groping" isn't enough. The courts have denied cases like this!!!!!!!!!?"Single instances of disgusting comments, rubbing, and all types of extreme behavior." The courts have denied cases like this!!!!!!!?" looking down a blouse, lifting up a skirt." Come on this as well!!!!!!?

November 22 2012 at 5:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


November 22 2012 at 5:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am 17 and I quit my job back in September because my supervisor or technically boss was harassing me both sexually and verbally. I was uncomfortable the first few times and told the General Manager and she said she would handle it but never did. When he continued to harass me I told my GM again and she said the same thing but never did anything. I finally got fed up one night when he started yelling and cussing at me in the kitchen so I quit that same night. I just didn't want to get into all the legal stuff because I have a lot on my plate and don't need the legal stuff involved too. My co-worker who is also a girl but is legal (20) saw it a lot and would hear me talk about it to her a lot over the phone some nights. My boss wouldn't do the stuff he did and said to me to her or my other co-workers who were guys but would only do them to me... slaps my butt more than once... kisses my cheeks a lot... tricked me and kissed my lips one night when I hesitantly tried getting around kissing his cheek... and finally he would cuss at me and talk **** about me when I wasn't even out of the room yet... he would also blame stuff if it went wrong or wasn't done on the waitstaff. I would have to do everything if the two co-workers who had been there the longest weren't working, which is when the harassment would usually happen. If ___________ and ________ weren't there he would harass me by doing what I mentioned earlier and try to be all macho and powerful over me. It wasn't only my boss but another co-worker who would do this but his was more verbal sexual harassment. I walked in on him saying to another co-worker what he would do to me if I was 18 and then while I was in the same area with him and the other one, he called my breasts names... if I remember correctly one of them was named Tina. He then tried hugging me which I had before but only in a friendly gesture but I told him that he made me really uncomfortable and I didn't like the way he talked about me. I told my GM about this and she said she would handle it and all of this was over less than a years time. Today I had a job interview and I am still 17. I said in my resume I resigned from my previous job due to personal reasons that I was open to discuss if needed. He asked me why I did seeing as I was open for discussion and I told him the honest truth that I was sexually harassed. Do you think that was a bad idea? I just don't like lying about why I quit because it is not fair to be discriminated against because of saying the truth. What do you guys think I should or should have done? I feel confident I may get the job because of my experience and personality but what if my "past situation" discourages him?

November 06 2012 at 6:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Yarns Unraveling

Always notice most work-jerks create & crave negative attention, and since their best skill is lying through their their teeth, when confronted, they deny knowing what their being called out about, have no idea & its the other person who is the problem, etc - then they smirk gleefully like their getting away with something, which they are - the theft of other peoples economic well being. HR must be hand in hand when management decides to use psychological warfare by not firing harassers after multiple complaints, their motto must be keep em brow beat & unhappy. In the final analysis, this is how the glass ceiling is kept over women's heads, by making the environment hostile and by rewarding & encouraging sleazy harassers to keep it that way - justice & government is no different - they do not want status quo disturbed nor do they want equality for women because then they might have to assign more equal rights and dignify women's complaints, let alone give them a say in how laws are decided. Thus, harassment is a taught and learned behavior that trickles down from the highest places & out into the rest of society. Bully-harassers in the work place are psychopaths that no one wants to be around, so when employees turnover is high, it is up to companies to investigate and take action to change culture. Companies that fail to do this preserve the status quo and are also the ones responsible for failure to support revamped education systems so as to eradicate discrimination. It is a vicious cycle with very immature selfish egotists creating a very hostile environment for all - that is the secret to their control. The counter action is to not support these companies with our consumer dollars. Boycott all large banks, and bank local credit unions is one action we can all take that really helps not fund ego maniacs on wall street.

September 12 2012 at 1:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would like to know ,why a company knows that a male who has problems mentally and phyiscially can not get fired...He has to touch women and sometimes in the wrong places.Have complained and all they say is that they have to give him a job,everytime he does something wrong he tells his family shows up,his sister is a attorney,BUT women have to put up with him....

June 28 2011 at 7:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debra Wilson

I wish I had known this at my last job where the harassment was so severe I had a total breakdown and was then fired for mental health reasons. But who do you report it to when its your boss doing the harassing and there is no one above him to report to? I dealt with it for eight months before I lost it and they fired me. That was going on four years ago and I have still not been able to find other employment since.

June 20 2011 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Debra Wilson's comment

Hello, Debra. Your story sounds so similar to mine. I finally got a job, everyone was nice, the company owner seemed like the perfect person to work for. It wasn't long before he started harassing me: suggesting I come see him on the weekend for 30 minutes, follow him home, have sex with him and he would pay me. He even told me he couldn't hurt me because he had a vasectomy. He started telling me I had to make a place in my schedule so we could make this happen, and I ended up quitting. I really needed a job, and my heart is bleeding at the fact that a woman can be intelligent but never succeed due to these perverts who are allowed to control our destiny with their disgusting practices. I hope to hear from you. Sorry about what you went through. I understand all too well.

August 24 2013 at 8:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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