How to Protect Yourself From Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Federal law protects against discrimination on the job. Find out what your workplace rights are.

Approximately one in three women have reported sexual harassment on the job. Whether it's in Hollywood, corporate offices, small retailers, or restaurants, the number one place women say they are harassed is in the workplace. If your office or company does not have a formal human resources department or dedicated HR professional, there are strategies you can still use to avoid being sexually harassed at work. This action plan can help you take action as needed:

  • If you feel comfortable, talk to your harasser. Tell him or her that you are bothered. Be specific about the unwelcome conduct. Ask that it stop.
  • Find out if your company has a sexual harassment policy. Check an employee handbook, contract, or office memo. Follow the policy. That should include reporting the harassment to your supervisor.
  • If no policy is in place (or your harasser is the supervisor), you can file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on your own. The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws, including employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Check the EEOC website for instructions. You can do this without an attorney. Your employer will be notified. There may be an effort to mediate and reach a settlement. If no settlement is reached, you may be able to sue in court. NOTE: You have about six months or 180 days from the incident to file an EEOC claim. (Sometimes, it can be a long wait but it's still under a year.)
  • Contact an employment attorney in your state as some states have laws that also address harassment in the workplace. Attorneys will often give you a free consultation, which will help you decide which path to take.
  • Keep notes of the incidents, such as dates, description of the conduct, where it happened, any witnesses, and etc. Keep a record of job evaluations and any letters or memos that also demonstrate satisfactory job performance.

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