It’s the third time this week that one of your colleagues flirts with you. At first you didn’t think anything of it, but now you want it to stop and don’t know how to. Whether it’s an inappropriate email or a hand on the shoulder, sexual harassment is not an issue to be ignored. So here are a couple of steps that you can take if you ever feel sexually harassed in your workplace.
What is sexual harassment?
So where does it begin? Do you complain because of a compliment you got about a dress? Sometimes it’s not easy to spot but other time’s its very obvious, such as your boss offering you a raise for a sexual favour. This type of behaviour is prohibited by the Labour Relations Act, but is still a common occurrence in the workplace.
It can be described as a form of unwanted physical, non-verbal or verbal conduct. This includes exchanging sexual favours for a raise, sexual advances, sex-related jokes, innuendos, hints or suggestions and any other unwelcome and inappropriate behaviour.
Talk to them directly
You receive a text from your colleague with a sexual joke. You find it offensive but are unsure what to do about it. No matter what it is if you’re uncomfortable with the incident, observation, or flirtation, you should first ask the person to politely stop harassing you.
He may be unaware that he has crossed the line so a polite request such as “I feel offended or uncomfortable when you say or do…” may be all that you need to do for him to leave you alone. If it’s too difficult to face him by yourself, you can either ask a colleague to come with you or send a written complaint in the form of an email.
File a complaint
If after this he still doesn’t stop then you need to lay a complaint either in writing or verbally with the manager or the Human Resources Department. But then what will happen? Will it damage your career? Will you lose your job? Either way, failing to lodge one will only make it worse and will result in you not getting your voice heard.
Most companies will have a policy that is against sexual harassment, so the HR department will be able to help you with this type of incident. Before you approach them make sure that you have collected all the evidence concerning it as the harasser may disrepute it.
Formal or Informal grievance procedures
There are times where the manager won’t be able to help you resolve the matter, it might be a small company or the offender is the head of HR. This is where you can start a grievance procedure. In an informal procedure, the manager or HR representative will have a discussion with the offender, allowing him to give his side of the story and then caution him about repeating it.
In a formal procedure he would have a fair hearing where he’s allowed to respond to the allegations. Then he would either get a warning that is put on record or he would get suspension, relocation or dismissal depending on its severity.
The biggest threat to a safe work environment for women is not the offenders; it’s not reporting their behaviour. So if you feel that you’re being harassed make sure to follow these steps to help make your office a safe and comfortable place.
Dana Da Silva