If you face harassment at your workplace or someone you know does, here’s what you should do to act against it.

Tips on how to deal with workplace harassment

Workplace harassment is an unfortunate but a rampant reality in today’s offices. When it involves Tarun Tejpal, R K Pachauri or Harvey Weinstein, harassment does get the much-required spotlight. However, discrimination based on race, religion, disability, age, physicality, sexual or different types of psychological harassment are being faced by many employees across offices.

It is believed that a shocking 90% of workplace harassment instances are not reported. The figure is 75%, even in a nation as advanced as the USA. Many sexual harassment whistle-blowers face backlash later, and it doesn’t encourage other sufferers to break their silence. However, whatever be the type of harassment, a victim can deal with it in an effective manner by following a concerted and well-planned course of action.

Where does the workplace stand?

When it comes to harassment at work, almost every company has a policy safeguarding against it. Many companies have a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment. Browse through the employee handbook to find out what you need to do in case of workplace harassment. It will at least mention the contact person for consulting or reporting on any matters related to workplace harassment.

Break the silence

It is important not to be silent or tolerate any form of harassment. You shouldn’t be embarrassed or be wary of the consequences. Develop your own zero-tolerance policy towards harassment at workplace. Harassment should be reported to the Human Resources, your seniors or the person specified in the employee handbook.

Documenting the experience

A very well-prepared note can help you immensely in establishing your claim against a harassing co-worker or senior. You should record all details of the incident(s) like date, time, place, people present, and so on. The more information you can capture in the document, the easier it will be to authenticate the incident. Keep the document in a safe place - at your home if required.

Put it straight across

If you don’t like the way you are being treated, give a piece of your mind to the person. Don’t enter into a fistfight or go on a fire breathing rant, but put the message across that you are not to be taken for granted and that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. The chances are that the bully might mend his/her way of going forward. 

Gather witnesses

If there have been several instances of harassment, there may have been a few witnesses on some occasions. Discuss your problems with the witnesses and understand their opinion on the same. If you perceive that they too feel that you are being harassed, you may try to convince them to vouch for your case in the hour of need.

Discuss with a professional

Try to understand your right as an employee in general. There are many organisations, unions, non-profit etc. for employee rights, and you may consider discussing your problem with one of them. There are labour law specialists and employment lawyers who can be of help too. They can help you know your rights and the available legal recourse, particularly if your own company “disowns" the claim.

Keep a record of the complaint

Harassment cases often cost the companies a fortune, so there may be forces within the willing to downplay the incident as a petty issue. Therefore, it is not always enough to coordinate with the company and do occasional follow-ups, but rather keep a watertight record of all correspondences and paperwork for yourself. 

Seek the support of near ones

Facing workplace harassment can be a stressful experience, and once you go public about it, you may feel overwhelmed by the unwanted attention as well. Therefore, it is very important that you discuss your feelings with your friends and family. Your well-wishers will make sure that you don’t feel alone in such trying times and can even come up with useful suggestions.

While it is important to stand up against harassment, it is equally important to support someone who is facing such a problem. Harassment and its aftermath can be a traumatic experience that many people might find difficult to cope with. Therefore, one should also support co-workers who are experiencing harassment and encourage them to act on it. Have a look at sensitising teens about sexual harassment in the workplace and their rights to gather concrete awareness about workplace behaviour.

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