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How to document sexual harassment in the workplace

Last month, the #hashtag “me too” went viral. Stories never before shared were finally out in the open. The spectrum of sexual harassment is broad and many incidents have happened in offices and on work floors across the nation.

What are the types of sexual harassment at work? Quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment are two main ones. In this post, we will go into more detail about each and then provide tips for what to do to make it stop.

Quid Pro Quo

You do something for me and I’ll do something for you – this quid pro quo becomes a serious issue when it involves sexual advances. For example, a boss describes what he/she could possibly do to help advance your career if you go out for dinner with him or her. Brushing off these advances comes with the implicit, if you do not there will not be a promotion or there might no longer be a job for you.

This can easily cause emotional distress making it difficult to keep going into work.

Hostile Environment

While there are plenty of U.S. examples, a woman who had been an officer in the Canadian Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and is now an advocate brings up this important concept: “it only takes one.” As in, it only takes one supervisor to say, “don’t say that, it’s not appropriate. If you say that again, you’re out of here.”

For her, the sexual harassment and bullying started with lewd nicknames and eventually escalated to violence. Co-workers loosened screws on a bathroom door that fell and knocked her out. When she returned to work she found dead animals in her locker. After 20 years, she fought back and settled out of court with her former agency.

What rises to the level of hostile work environment sexual harassment? It’s when intimidation, offensive comments or inappropriate touches start to interfere with work performance.

How do you prove what had been happening?

Start with a journal or a word document saved on a flash drive. Record each time you feel harassed on the day it happens. By recording the date, time, what, when, who did it, who witnessed it, you can preserve the details that demonstrate a pattern.

Save harassing emails, documents, gifts or texts. Document performance evidence, such as an evaluation showing you achieved/exceed metrics or memo thanking you for your work on a projects. One common defense strategy is to claim your accusation is baseless and meant to distract from poor work performance.

Keep track of every effort you make to get the behavior to stop – whether confronting the harasser(s) or following your company/organization complaint process. This shows your concerns were serious and you were proactive.

If your efforts lead nowhere in resolving the situation, it is time to speak with an employment discrimination attorney. Remedies are available and bad behavior cannot be waived aside or it never changes.

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