What Can You Do About Workplace Harassment?

Being harassed in your workplace can make you feel belittled, unsafe, and utterly powerless. Many employees know that they have a right to be free from workplace harassment, but exercising that right can be daunting and confusing, especially in the all-too-common case that the harasser is your supervisor.

Who can you call to step in and stop the harassment? When it comes to your workplace rights (including your right to a harassment-free workplace), you are your own first line of defence. You can enforce your rights by reporting workplace harassment to your employer. If things escalate to the point that you lose your job, you may be able to sue or bring a reprisal application against your employer.

Here are some steps you can take to respond to workplace harassment:

  1. Report up
    Report the workplace harassment up the chain of command. No one will help you unless you ask for it. If the harasser is your boss, report it to their boss. If your company has a human resources department, report it to them.
  2. Put it in writing
    Employment lawyers often say that if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. Put all workplace harassment complaints in writing, to create the documentary record. If you complained verbally, follow up with an e-mail. Document instances of harassment including dates, times, names, witnesses, and what was said.
  3. Demand Action
    It’s not uncommon for workplace harassment complaints to disappear into a pile of paperwork. That can only happen if you let it. If your employer is not taking your complaint seriously, or not addressing it quickly enough, make it known (preferably, in writing).
  4. Be the bigger person
    Rise above the harassment, remain professional, and do not engage with the harasser. Remember that it is your employer’s job (not yours) to deal with workplace harassment. Laughing it off, retaliating in anger, or escalating the situation is not only unhelpful, it could distract from the real issue -- the fact that you are being subjected to harassment.
  5. Talk to an employment lawyer
    Unfortunately, your employer may not always be receptive to complaints of workplace harassment. Your employer might claim that you misinterpreted the situation; they might take the harasser’s side; they might tell you that you have to deal with it; or they might even threaten you with discipline. If this happens, it may be time to speak with an employment lawyer to evaluate your options.

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