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They Said, I Said: Documenting Workplace Sexual Harassment for Protection

They Said, I Said: Documenting Workplace Sexual Harassment for Protection

Experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace can be a deeply unsettling and isolating experience. Between the shock, embarrassment, and fear of retaliation, it’s easy to feel powerless. However, you are not alone, and there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

One of the most crucial actions you can take is to document the harassment. This detailed record becomes a powerful tool for holding your employer accountable and seeking legal recourse.

This blog post, brought to you by the employment law team at Makarem & Associates, will equip you with practical strategies for documenting workplace sexual harassment. By following these steps, you can build a strong case that protects your rights and well-being.

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile work environment. Harassment can be directed at an employee or someone applying for a job, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Here are some examples of behaviors that can constitute sexual harassment:

  • Verbal harassment: This includes making sexual comments, jokes, or innuendos; using offensive language; telling sexual stories; or making threats of a sexual nature.
  • Non-verbal harassment: This includes leering, unwelcome touching, stalking, displaying offensive images, or sending sexually suggestive emails or texts.
  • Quid pro quo harassment: This is when someone in a position of power offers a job benefit (like a promotion or raise) in exchange for sexual favors.

Why Document?

In a “he said, she said” situation, clear and detailed documentation becomes critical for proving your case. Here’s why documenting is crucial:

  • Memory fades over time: The details of an incident can become hazy with time. Written documentation helps you capture details while events are fresh in your mind.
  • Strengthens your case: A clear record demonstrates the frequency, severity, and specific nature of the harassment.
  • Provides evidence for investigation: Detailed documentation allows your employer or legal representative to properly investigate the complaint.
  • Supports a legal claim: If you decide to pursue legal action, a documented record becomes crucial evidence for your case.

What to Document:

Now that you understand the importance of documentation, let’s explore the key elements to capture:

  • Dates and Times: Record the date and time of each harassment incident.
  • Specific Details: Describe the incident in detail. Be specific about what was said, who was present, and any witnesses you may have.
  • Nature of the Harassment: Describe the behavior that constituted harassment. Was it verbal, non-verbal, or physical? Include specific quotes or actions.
  • Your Reaction: Explain how the harassment made you feel. Did it create a hostile work environment? Did you feel intimidated or unsafe?
  • Actions You Took: Did you report the incident to anyone? Did you ask the harasser to stop? Document your attempts to address the situation.

Tools for Documentation:

Here are some practical tools to help you document harassment effectively:

  • Workplace Diary: Keep a dedicated notebook or digital document where you record each incident as it happens.
  • Email Records: Save any emails or texts containing harassing content.
  • Voice Notes: If a safe and legal option, use voice notes to record specific incidents, particularly if they are verbal in nature.
  • Witness Statements: If there were witnesses to the harassment, get their written statements if possible.

How to Document Discreetly:

Documenting harassment can feel daunting, especially if you fear retaliation. Here are some tips for keeping your documentation discreet:

  • Use a secure location: Store your documents in a safe place, such as a locked drawer, password-protected computer file, or cloud storage with strong encryption.
  • Date electronically: Date your digital records electronically to create a timestamp.
  • Use neutral language: When documenting, focus on factual details and avoid using overly emotional language.

Reporting Sexual Harassment

While documentation is vital, it’s equally important to report the harassment itself. Start by reviewing your company’s sexual harassment policy and reporting procedures. These are typically outlined in your employee handbook or posted in a common area.

Common reporting options include:

  • Supervisor or HR Department: Report the harassment directly to your supervisor or the Human Resources department.
  • EEO Officer: If your company has a dedicated Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer, you can report the harassment to them.
  • External Agencies