What To Do If You’re Being Sexually Harassed at Work


Like clockwork, he would appear at my desk—the boss who could come up with any number of reasons to talk to me about politics, the weather, sports, though as far as I could tell his main objective was to casually stare down my shirt. Did he cross a line? Not physically. But he made me uncomfortable. Yet if I didn’t play along – sweetly engaging in conversation when he hovered over my desk – I worried my career would suffer.

I was lucky: that boss was ultimately fired. But plenty of women aren’t nearly so fortunate. A 2015 survey found that one in three women report they’ve been sexually harassed at work, with 38 percent saying the harassment came from a male boss. The problem, of course, is that proving harassment is incredibly tricky—which is no doubt why so many women (70 percent in the case of the study cited above) choose not to report it. But that is changing, in part thanks to brave women like Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor, and many more women who are speaking out in Silicon Valley, prompting dozens of others to come forward. So what do you do if you’re being harassed?


1. Know Your Rights

The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with the performance of one’s job. There are two types of sexual harassment, “quid pro quo”–or the type in which you’re offered something if you submit to it, or are threatened if you don’t—and the much more common “hostile environment,” which constitutes any comments about your gender being inferior, or sexual comments, that are creating an environment that could be considered hostile. In many cases, it is a combination of the two.


2. Document Everything

Part of the reason Gretchen Carlson’s case was against Roger Ailes was so strong was that she documented everything. For a year and a half, she had in fact recorded her meetings with the chairman on her phone. If you think you’re being harassed, keep a record of each and every inappropriate interaction, with the time, date, and circumstances. Consider recording it. Don’t—repeat, do not—keep your notes on your work computer. If there is somebody you trust, tell them what’s going on, so should you decide to escalate the issue you have another party to corroborate your story.


3. Talk to Colleagues

Chances are if he’s doing it to you, he’s done it to somebody else. There is always more power – and safety – in numbers.


4. Report Him

The Supreme Court has said that reporting sexual harassment is a requirement before you can sue, with the idea being that you have to give your employer the chance to correct the situation. Reporting a boss can be tricky, so think about the best person to tell. Many companies have HR departments; in those that do not, consider telling the most senior-level person that you trust. Also consider doing this – or following up – in writing. The idea is to have a printed record of as much evidence as you can that you’ve done your due diligence, in case you decide to pursue further action. If a company does not take action to stop the behavior, they then become liable for it.


5. File a Complaint With the EEOC

Depending on your state, you have 180 or 300 days from the date of the last incident to file, and filing with the EEOC is one way to protect you from retaliation. You may want to get out of your workplace anyway, but all of these are steps to cover your bases in the event you do decide to sue. Find out more information at EEOC.gov.


6. Believe Women

Sexual harassment is incredibly, incredibly common, and yet so often it takes multiple reports—and years—for it to truly come out. Why? So often, because we don’t believe the accusers. Consider this the next time you see or hear of behavior that may be inappropriate. And remember, sexual harassment is typically not about sex at all—it’s about power.


This article has been adapted from Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace, out now.  Check it out in the Bumble Bee-Tique for more workplace tools and tips!

CareerEsther Sasouness