Real-World Strategies for Handling Workplace Sexual Harassment

Despite mandated workplace harassment training in many organizations, sexual harassment continues to plague companies and employees everywhere. And since harassment still occurs, employees must be trained how to recognize it, prevent it, and report it if they witness it happening. Below are some real-world strategies for handling sexual harassment at work.

These strategies are best covered and practiced during workplace harassment training. Watching a sexual harassment video will help employees recognize sexually harassing behaviors and see how “real-world” people can effectively handle sexual harassment in-the-moment.

Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment

Preventing sexual harassment begins by making clear that your organization has zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment means a hostile work environment has been created - either when an employee is subjected to sexually harassing behavior that unreasonably interferes with that employee’s ability to do his or her job, or when a person in authority threatens an employee with a consequence (or promises a reward, like a promotion) in exchange for a sexual favor (Quid Pro Quo). Sexually harassing behavior includes physical, verbal and nonverbal behavior like innuendos, sexual teasing or advances, sarcasm, provocative noises (like whistling), leering, touching, grabbing, or suggestive compliments.

While organizations shouldn’t expect victims or witnesses of sexual harassment to ask the harasser to stop, they should make clear that victims/witnesses have the right to, and are certainly empowered to do so. One way to speak up is in the moment, as the harassment is occurring: “Hey, that makes me uncomfortable. Please stop.” Or, “You can’t tell jokes like that at work. It’s offensive and I’d like for you to stop.” While things like this may take some courage to say (and may not always produce the desired effect), sometimes just having the behavior pointed out as inappropriate is enough to stop the perpetrator from doing it again.

It’s Never Too Late to Speak Up

Another way to speak up is after the harassing behavior occurs. Perhaps you need some time to think about what you’ll say, or maybe you didn’t want to confront the perpetrator in front of others. Whatever the reason, it’s never too late to say something.

If you feel you can’t confront the perpetrator directly, another strategy for handling workplace harassment is to report it to your employer. Start with your manager or supervisor, and if the issue isn’t addressed properly, take it up with Human Resources or your Legal Department. Never feel like you have to ignore or put up with sexually suggestive behavior until you “reach your limit.”

Make it Clear That Reporting Harassment Does Not Carry Risk of Retaliation

Managers who’ve been through workplace harassment training are fully aware that it is illegal to retaliate against an employee who has reported a sexual harassment complaint. But the number one reason employees fail to log a complaint in the early stages of sexual harassment (when an amicable resolution is most likely) is because of fear of retaliation. Organizations and individual managers should make it clear that employees have nothing to fear when it comes to retaliation from reporting a complaint.

For the latest in effective sexual harassment prevention training, be sure to preview Media Partners' new production, Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work. Available as interactive eLearning or for use in facilitator-led classroom training, this program features cinema-quality production, coverage of all types of sexual harassment, comprehensive support materials, and more. It complies with NY, CA and other state training mandates.