Who thinks work should be fun? Who thinks that you should be able to go to work everyday with a smile on your face? Who thinks that you could even possibly have a good relationship with all of your coworkers and boss? Probably everyone who is reading this. However, some people do not get to feel like this. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very serious topic that often goes unnoticed and unreported. Many people feel the need to hide what is happening to them because they need the job and money. I’m here to tell you that there are options for you. Sexual harassment has no spot in the workplace.
I worked part-time at a pizza place when I was in high school and at the beginning of college. It was an easy way to make some cash, so I can hang out with my friends. The only thing I never thought was a problem actually was a very big problem. I was the only girl who worked there. As soon as one of my coworkers found out that I was 18, he started telling me he wanted me to be his girlfriend, which moved to telling me he wanted me to be his wife and have his kids, to slowly trying to hold my hand, and touch my legs. When I finally had the nerve to tell my boss what was going on, my boss gave me a choice: I can quit and keep my dignity or he can fire me. I immediately quit, took my pay for the hours I worked, and left.
Maybe you’re wondering why my boss didn’t stick up for me. Or why I didn’t try to fight this. Or maybe you’re even wondering what I was wearing to get my coworker to do this to me. These are all questions I’ve been asked about this situation, and here is how I responded:
1. My boss did not care about me. To him, I was just a counter girl and he could get another one. He didn’t have time to deal with this, so he fired the person who brought it up.
2. There was no point in fighting this. I was in a position where I could get another job, where maybe I would not get sexually harassed.
We had uniforms – a t-shirt with our logo on it and jeans. It doesn’t matter what I was wearing. Even if I had been wearing a crop top and booty shorts, that wouldn’t have given him the right to do and say what he did. I am allowed to wear what I want without getting harassed for it.
It has now been almost two years since I left and I have never looked back. My friends and family supported me and helped make sure my mental health was okay from this. I got a new part-time job at Dunkin’ Donuts, where I love all my coworkers and I just feel like I am in such a better place. Yes I still have stress from school and other problems that life throws at me, but I am getting through it all, and I know you’re able to as well. If you are getting sexually harassed at work, I want you to feel the power I had to tell my boss. If it is your boss that is harassing you, or if they don’t respond well, they have a boss too; everyone always has someone in a higher position. However, if you do not feel comfortable going to to your boss (or their boss), you can always talk to your family, friends, or even talk to AVFTI. You have the power to get this to stop. You are never alone. Never forget that you have every right to go to work without being scared of what is going to happen to you.
- Find out your company’s sexual harassment policy.
A sexual harassment policy will usually include your rights, protections against retaliation and an outline of what happens if a claim is reported. If your company does not have a sexual harassment policy, remember that according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. You are protected from sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There may be additional laws in your state that protect you as well.
- Keep a written track record of incidents
Write down the incidents of harassment, dates and times that they occurred, and how the harassment has affected your ability to do your job. Keeping written track of these incidents can be helpful, especially if you do decide to make a report.
- Speak up
If you’re comfortable speaking to the person directly, politely but firmly tell them to stop. If you don’t feel comfortable talking in person, sending them a letter is also an option.
- Tell someone
If you aren’t comfortable speaking up to the person harassing you, or if it doesn’t work, tell a supervisor. This can be your supervisor, the supervisor of the person harassing you, or someone in an HR department. Referring to your company’s harassment policy may provide some clarity on who you should report to.
- Follow up in writing
It can be a good idea to follow up with a letter or email, especially if you feel as if your company is not handling your report properly.
- File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. More information at the EEOC website.
- Speak with a lawyer
A lawyer can help you understand your rights, and may even be willing to work you on a contingency basis. It can be good to have someone on your side to help navigate a situation like this. Contact us if you need help finding an attorney in your area.