Overcoming Sexual Harassment at Work

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ELEVATING TO THE NEXT LEVEL

We have all learnt via various media in recent times about girls being sexually harassed or raped. The latest one is the story of a popular musician who on social media was alleged to have sexually harassed a young lady. He was also accused of intimidating and trying to coerce the girl he allegedly raped to recant her story. There are several reports where the perpetrators of this dastardly act also murder their victims.

We’ve also read about notable sexual harassment cases outside of Nigeria and the sort of redress the victims have been able to garner when cases were reported, investigated and resolved either by punishment, settlements or sacking to bring the matter to a close.

In Nigeria, sexual harassment is rampant but hardly ever reported. I remember earlier in my career, a senior colleague hit my behind. To say I was shocked at his behaviour, was an understatement because he was someone I respected. I gave him a stern warning and he never repeated the mistake.

However, not everybody is as lucky as I was. Men and women have suffered terribly from sexual harassment and have had to bear all kinds of negative comments and psychological trauma to overcome their situation. Many have had to resign in order to get away from the situation and those who have managed to report had to resign because of retaliations.

A 2015 Cosmopolitan survey found that about one in three women report that they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace. Like me, 38 per cent said the harassment came from a male boss. More than 70 per cent, however, did not report their abuse.

According to Donna Ballman, a respected employment lawyer and author of Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired. “It’s extremely hard to prove and win a sexual harassment claim, I’ve found that retaliation seems to be the norm, rather than the exception, when it comes to sexual harassment.”

The data bear that out. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charges of retaliation linked to discrimination claims more than doubled from 1997 to 2015, to just under 40,000, overtaking charges of racial discrimination.

That said, Ballman continued: “Women (and men) are justifiably afraid to report sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is not about sex. It’s about power. If you don’t speak up about a sexual harasser, he or she will keep doing it and accelerate their behavior.”

8 Steps to Take
Here’s Ballman with her eight steps to take if you believe you’re the victim of sexual harassment at work:
1. Document any quid pro quo. One type of sexual harassment, called “quid pro quo sexual harassment,” is where you’re offered a job, promotion or favours if you submit to the harasser — or are threatened that you’ll be demoted, fired or disciplined if you don’t. So if any offers or threats are being made, write down the date, time, place and any witnesses.

Don’t worry if there are no witnesses. Harassers are usually too smart to do it in front of others.
2. Document any comments and different treatment you’ve received. The other type of sexual harassment, called “hostile environment,” is way more common than quid pro quo. Hostile environment is where you’re being harassed due to your gender. This could be comments about your gender being inferior, sexual comments or treating people of your gender differently than the opposite sex.

If the harasser is making comments or treating you differently, he or she may also be targeting others of your sex. Watch carefully and take good notes of comments directed to you and to others. Again, include date, time, place and any witnesses. If it’s just you, then still document it.

3. Keep your notes in a safe place. Don’t put them on your work computer, in a desk drawer or somewhere where your employer can take them. Instead, keep them in a purse or briefcase or write them on your home computer. If you’re fired, you’ll be prevented from taking your notes from your work computer and they may be conveniently “lost.”
4. Gather your evidence. If the harasser is texting, emailing or sending cards or notes, keep copies. Don’t delete them. Make sure you take a screen shot of any texts or Snapchats and print them so you don’t lose them if your device crashes or you buy a new one. Print out emails, too, and keep them in a safe place.

5. Report the harassment at work. Reporting sexual harassment is a requirement before you can sue. You have to give the employer a chance to correct the situation. Make sure you’ve followed the company sexual harassment policy, if there is one, and reported your concern to the correct person. The employer should have alternate people to report it to in case one is your harasser.

I suggest reporting it in writing. If you’ve only reported it verbally, follow up in writing. Write something like, ‘This will confirm our conversation on June 15, 2016 in which I reported sexual harassment by my supervisor. Mr. Lagbaja. I reported the following instances of sexual harassment to you: [list them]. Please take prompt action to investigate this matter and address this situation.’

Remember, the employer doesn’t have to fire the harasser or tell you what action was taken. They only have to make it stop. If he or she does it again or retaliates, report it. Once the company is on notice that a person is a harasser, it will be strictly liable if they don’t stop him or her.

8. Get the heck out. If your company won’t do anything and you don’t feel safe there, start looking for a position elsewhere. Don’t let the harasser bully you out of a job before you’re ready, but don’t feel trapped either.

Kerry Hannon said, “If you don’t report sexual harassment, there will be other victims and the behavior will get worse. Stand up for your right to a safe workplace. Your employer has a duty to keep your workplace free of sexual harassment. It’s the law.”