By Ann Eastham, GCDF
Contributor, Career Services
Thanks to stories such as a recent presidential candidate’s comments or the airplane passenger kicked off a flight for catcalling, the discussion around sexual harassment has been re-energized. It’s an unfortunate situation that many people, both men and women, find themselves in while in a professional work environment.
The important questions are “What do you do when faced with sexual harassment in the workplace?” and “What is considered sexual harassment and what is not?” The following is a general outline of what is considered sexual harassment and steps you can take if you’re experiencing it in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is generally defined as “unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” The way it’s been explained to me is if your comments or actions make someone else uncomfortable or fearful of their safety while in the workplace, it could be considered harassment. This includes conversations where inappropriate or vulgar language is used to describe a person or event that may or may not be associated with the workplace, and is overheard by someone. Keep in mind that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that would violate the Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964.
So what should you do if you believe you’re a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace? First thing, consult your employee handbook as it will have a section on the subject with a policy and plan in place. Likely, this will mean putting your experiences in writing, providing specific details. You may be asked for witnesses as well, so take note of those around you.
If you feel safe speaking up to the person, you can let them know that the type of language, behavior or advances are not welcomed and you would like them to stop. Please understand that if the behavior makes you feel threatened (direct threats, aggressive behavior, physical advances), you should escalate that to the appropriate authority quickly.
You should also include your direct manager, supervisor or HR representative in your actions. You may be in a situation where your direct manager is the perpetrator or may be close to the person who is. You must make someone else aware of what is occurring as this is not a topic that should remain silent.
Keep in mind that you might not be the only person with your experience! If you speak up, the more likely it is that a solution will occur. You also have the option of filing a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the matter is not resolved.
Also, keep in mind that sexual assault is still a crime if it occurs at work. You are well within your rights to call the police and report any form of assault regardless of where it happens.
While we would all hope that sexual harassment will one day be a thing of the past, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. In the meantime, your greatest protection is to know and exercise your rights should you find yourself in that situation.
About the Author
Ann started her education at the University of Findlay and completed an associate degree in equestrian studies in 2005. After working for a few years in a wide variety of farm/ranch jobs, she completed her bachelor’s in health care administration at Ashford University. Ann served as a clinical technician in an ICU/Telemetry unit before working as a Clinical Research Coordinator for Cardiac, Vascular, and Thoracic surgery.
In 2011, Ann transitioned from working in the healthcare field into higher education and started as an Academic Advisor. While working as an advisor, Ann developed a passion for assisting students in converting their education into careers and became a career coach in 2014. Ann currently works with students in the health, nursing, intelligence/national security, and military industries.