Don’t report sexual harassment (in most cases)

Sexual harassment in American work life is pervasive — as much as 80 percent in some sectors. But most women don’t stand a chance of winning a lawsuit. So having a plan to deal with the problem is a good idea for all women.

When it comes to harassment, Georgia Gatsiou, chef at Beard Papa, says: “I would talk to him myself. I am aggressive like that.” You should probably take that approach as well. Most sexual harassment isn’t severe enough to hold up in court, and the law isn’t strong enough to protect you from most types of retaliation. So unless your safety is at risk, you’re usually best off handling the harasser yourself rather than reporting him to human resources.

To win a lawsuit, courts require proof that harassment was severe and pervasive in the work environment, according to Alisa Epstein of New York-based law firm Samuelson, Hause & Samuelson. And that employee handbook becomes important too. Gatsiou is typical of employee handbook readers: “It’s big. I’ve read a lot of things in that handbook. Maybe there’s something about harassment. I don’t know.” But when you report to human resources, you must follow your company’s policy precisely or you risk losing your ability to take the company to court.

After you’ve filed a report, human resources will protect the company, not you. Human resource executives talk about their concern for harassment. But, according to Jim Weliky of Boston-based law firm Messing, Rudavsky & Weliky, “most human resource departments don’t live up to their propaganda.”

The law is set up to encourage a company to take proscribed steps to protect itself from liability rather than to protect your emotional stability, or, for that matter, your career. Once you take action against a harasser, retaliation is your biggest problem.

“Very few retaliation cases we have were not triggered by reporting the problem to human resources,” says Weliky. “But not all retaliation is strong enough to make it to court.” Retaliation is usually subtle: fewer invitations to lunch, a cubicle that isolates you from office networks, and project assignments that are boring. That sort of retaliation effectively holds back your career without standing up in court.

Just because you don’t have a lawsuit doesn’t mean you need to put up with harassment or retaliation. It means you need to take things into your own hands. Your goal should be to stop the harassment without hurting your career. No small feat, but possible.

“This is a negotiable moment,” says Carol Frohlinger, attorney and author of Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success. “Before going to human resources, have a frank conversation with the person making you uncomfortable.

“Be clear on what behavior is harassing and that you don’t like it. As long as he doesn’t repeatedly refuse to negotiate like saying, ‘You’re so premenstrual’ and walking away,’ ” Frohlinger said, “you should negotiate things for yourself.”

As in any important negotiating session Frohlinger advises that you assess your “best alternative to a negotiated agreement,” or BATNA. Your BATNA is probably to leave the company. But you should let your opponent feel that your BATNA is to go to human resources. Because no matter how arrogant he is, he will not be happy about being dragged into a ‘he said-she said’ mess before the human resources department.

When you negotiate, aim high: If your harasser is your boss, ask for help to switch departments, and ask to go to a better department with a top manager. It’s in your harasser’s interest to help you. Or, if a co-worker is harassing you, make sure the co-worker appreciates that you handled things yourself. You save the co-worker a lot of problems by not reporting him.These are ways to decrease the chances of retribution while squelching the harassing behavior.

If the harasser will not negotiate with you, assess your power versus his. “Sexual harassment is more about the balance of power than what has been said,” advises Weliky.

When Kate, a high-powered New York City lawyer, was young and working with a managing director, she recalled an incident in which he asked her to “bring the papers by my hotel room, and don’t worry if I’m only wearing a towel.”

She thought the comment was ludicrous and told the whole office. “I could do that because I was on my way up in that firm, and he was doing poorly,” she said. “He didn’t have a lot of ways to make my life difficult. In fact, someone told his wife and she bawled him out in front of his co-workers.”

A great situation, but most of you cannot depend on your harasser’s wife for vigilante law enforcement. If the balance of power is not in your favor, and you get nowhere negotiating, find a new job and leave the offending company–in that order–because it’s always easier to find a job when you have a job, even if you hate the job you have.

There is plenty to do in this world that does not require you to work in companies that enable a boys’ club atmosphere. There are a lot of men who feel alienated in this atmosphere too.

Find those men and work with them. Then get a lot of power in your career and create a workplace culture you believe in.

Posted in Diversity, No image, Office politics, Women
90 comments on “Don’t report sexual harassment (in most cases)
  1. Jazmin Powers says:

    I am rather disappointed to read advice like this, particularly from someone who has thought so much about many issues affecting our work and lives.

    If a black person (of either gender) encountered racism at work, would you offer this same advice? If not, would it be worth addressing why not? This perspective is focused solely on the individual. Will that harasser only harrass one woman? What about trying to find out who else has been affected and tackling the situation with others. What about the men you say don’t work well in this environment?

  2. penelope says:

    Hi, Jazmin. You bring up a lot of intersting questions. All of them are worth tackling, but I don’t tackle them here — to do them all would be a book, maybe.

    Even though this is hard advice to hear, I think you have to ask yourself, What would be better advice in the case of this post? I haven’t found anyone with better advice, and I interviewed a lot of people.

    I wish the best advice were: Talk to human resources because the law will back you up. That would make us all really happy, I think. But we’re not there yet.

  3. Gordon says:

    Good piece..and very true…which is an slur on our society…gutsy approach..

    G

  4. Benjamin Strong says:

    Speaking as a man that was harassed at work here is my perspective. Don't report it! I was working for a large metropolitan fire department when an ex girlfriend started sending hard core porn to me at the fire station. By department order I reported the stuff and notified my supervisor who curtly replied "What, you don't like naked ladies? Are you some sort of fag?" I asked that it be investigated.

    This opened a Pandora's Box of trouble for me. The department was concerned some of the porn I was receiving was actually illegal child porn. They began investigating ME accusing me of ordering it and trying to cover it up with the ex girl friend claim. My credit was run, I was questioned for 8 straight hours, had my rights read to me and had to submit hand writing samples, and I was the victim of this. I endured several months of scrutiny over something I wish I had never reported.

  5. Wendy says:

    Penelope,
    What do you think about confiding in a coworker you trust and seeking their advice or input before doing anything.

    I had a coworker confide in me about some inappropriate sexual advances made on her by one of the senior partners at the company.

    I think just having someone to talk to, who knew the players involved, was helpful to her. She needed to talk it out, so-to-speak. I did not get involved in the situation directly (and she never asked me to do so). She handled the situation fine on her own but would come into my office to gather strength.

    But I’m curious what you think about letting someone else know.

  6. penelope says:

    Wendy, this is great advice about talking to a friend at work. Harassment is awful to deal with, no matter what the legal situation is. Sharing your situation with a friend, getting advice, having a sounding board, these are all good tactics to give you strength in a bad situation. Thanks for pointing this out.

  7. Sheamus says:

    Regarding women and their careers… My Mom was a successful career woman back in the 40’s and 50’s when it was not so socially accepted. My darling wife is a career woman and an MA student. I have three daughters and two granddaughters. Thus it ought to be no surprise that I believe in women, in their capabilities and in their magnificent contributions.

    I’m pleased you put the qualifier “(in most cases)” in the heading to your post otherwise I would have taken great exception.

    And, I have a few additional comments:

    [1] I agree with your concluding observations… “There is plenty to do in this world that does not require you to work in companies that enable a boys' club atmosphere. There are a lot of men who feel alienated in this atmosphere too. Find those men and work with them. Then get a lot of power in your career and create a workplace culture you believe in.”

    [2] My strongly held view is that if a woman is harrased (in any way) at work or elsewhere she must (at the same time) (a) protect herself and (b) advocate and protect her rights as a huiman being.

    [3] IF this can be done quiety and with grace then “fine”. However women MUST find find appropriate ways and means to “claim their equal rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and… RESPECT”, and sometimes this means that women ought to have the name of a kick-=*ss great (preferably female) lawyer who can make the case in a way that individuals and companies understand. That make them pay!”

  8. Bill C. says:

    I agree that sexual harassment shouldn’t have to be formally reported, because you should be able to stand up for yourself. Female or male, if you can’t handle your own business, when you go to file suit, you’re going to be looked at as someone lame who now wants the law to deal with something you didn’t want to deal with on your own.

    Look what happened to Benjamin. Instead of handling his own personal business, he chose to report it “by department order”. He could have just told her to stop and dealt with it on his own. He would have saved himself from being berated by his supervisor and then dragged through the mud during the following investigation.

    Same thing for the ladies. There’s no reason that your co-workers shouldn’t have enough personal respect for you to listen to what you have to say and stop harassing you. Also, if you do decide to go the lawsuit route, you’d best have A LOT of CONCRETE evidence. Don’t count on person X testifying that they saw this and that. Don’t count on person Y putting in writing that they know that you were harassed. Without evidence, all you’re doing is alerting HR that you’re going to be a problem in the future, and they’re going to start looking for ways to legally remove you from the company before you start something.

    Earn your own respect (men or women), and you won’t have to bother with lawsuits.

  9. quycksilver says:

    The problem with what Bill C. says above is that if the harrasser had respect for the harrassee, there would likely not be an issue in the first place. Of course there are people who are more sensitive to things than others, but I find it hard to believe that in most of these situations (the guy with “only a towel,” for example), the offender doesn’t know that a line is being crossed. If there was respect for that line or the party on the other side, then, well, chances are Mr. Bathtowel would have cracked some other lame joke . . .

    Bill C. seems to think that it’s a rational siuation and that we’re dealing with reasonable people, but it is not a sound assumption in many sexual harrassment situations. I doubt that the porn girl, for example, would have just stopped on her own–clearly she was looking to jam her ex up in the worst possible way that she could imagine, and it worked. Had he confronted her, I don’t doubt that she would have realized that her strategy was working and then would have doubled her efforts. Blaming the victim, male or female, in these kinds of scenarios just isn’t helpful.

  10. Bill C. says:

    Interesting points, quycksilver… and worth elaborating on.

    > The problem with what Bill C. says
    > above is that if the harrasser had
    > respect for the harrassee, there
    > would likely not be an issue in the
    > first place.

    I agree with what you’re saying, however your point assumes that the harassee had given the harasser reason to respect them before any harassment occurred at all.

    In a perfect world… in which we do not live… everyone would respect everyone. :) In the real world, sometimes respect is found within someone’s response to harassment. A bully might pick on a kid for his lunch money, but when that kid stands up to him instead of giving it up, perhaps the bully _finds_ respect for that one kid and leaves him alone from then on. Same thing with harassment in the workplace. There are bullies in the workplace who feel free to pick on people that they deem unworthy of respect. Is it fair? No. Life isn’t fair. However, depending on that person’s response to them, the harassment is going to continue or stop.

    My point was that if you stand up for yourself and let the person know that you’re not having it, they might respect you PERSONALLY and treat you properly from then on and MAYBE even apologize, since they now see themselves as guilty of disrespecting someone that they *now* feel deserves respect.

    > Of course there are people who are
    > more sensitive to things than others,
    > but I find it hard to believe that in most
    > of these situations (the guy with "only a
    > towel," for example), the offender
    > doesn't know that a line is being
    > crossed. If there was respect for that
    > line or the party on the other side, then,
    > well, chances are Mr. Bathtowel would
    > have cracked some other lame joke . . .

    Absolutely. I agree. The question is “does the harasser respect the line or the person?”. I think it’s clear that “the line” is not respected by the harasser, so the deciding factor in whether they choose to step over that line with any individual is the personal respect they have or don’t have for that one individual. Running to HR doesn’t make that person respect YOU. You just got them in trouble… maybe… IF they choose to believe your word over the harasser’s word.

    > Bill C. seems to think that it's a rational
    > siuation and that we're dealing with
    > reasonable people, but it is not a sound
    > assumption in many sexual harrassment
    > situations.

    I think that harassers are bullies, and for the most part bullies are chumps. If you let them know they’re not going to get off easy for harassing you, they’ll move on to an easier mark. If not, then it’s clear that they’re not going to respect you personally, and HR is your next best bet. I say it’s worth it to see if you can get your own respect FIRST.

    > I doubt that the porn girl, for example,
    > would have just stopped on her own – €“
    > clearly she was looking to jam her ex up
    > in the worst possible way that she could
    > imagine, and it worked.

    No. It didn’t work. He worked HIMSELF! :D

    I’m not implying she would have stopped on her own. Now that I’m re-reading his post, I’m not sure if she was sending him actual physical materials or emails. His first option is to tell her to stop. If she’s not going to respect him personally, his next option is to block her email address, or if she was sending him materials in the mail, refuse to accept them.

    Instead, he chose to complain to his supervisor… a man, who was not homosexual… that he was receiving materials with “naked ladies”, and he didn’t like it. He set himself up to LOOK like a homosexual himself, and he was scrutinized because of THAT, and not because he was receiving porno in the mail or email. He did it to himself.

    • Robin says:

      Bullies don’t respect people. They want power. Period.
      A bully demands your lunch money, you refuse, the bully and his 4 buddies beat the stuffing out of you, then take your lunch money. A bully at work is no different. Demanding respect from a bully is like talking to a steamroller. Get out of the way, or get squashed.

      • HC says:

        Unfortunately, Robin is dead right about bullies and power. I would not advise someone to ‘stand up to’ a bully without knowing the details, precisely because it’s a myth that bullies always back down. _Sometimes_ they do…and sometimes they beat the crap out of the person who dared to stand up to them and nothing else changes. Life isn’t fair, and sometimes (just _sometimes_, mind you), fighting back makes things worse than they would have been.

        The same thing is true of sexual (and other forms of) harrassment. The question of “Is it worth the trouble?” has to be asked before you decide to act.

  11. MarilynJean says:

    The point is that his supervisor was wrong for accusing him of being gay AND using the word “fag”, derogatory term. The man was following the rules and was treated unfairly.

    I see quycksilver’s point. Sexual harassers are not rational people. If they were, they wouldn’t be harassers! I used to work for an organization that worked with women in skilled labor and construction. You can imagine what some women on these fields faced on the job. These were tough women who undoubtedly stuck up for themselves. But sometimes, that only worked to provoke the agressor and led to more vicious harassment.

    That is why workplace measures need to be in place and enforced so that it is not up to a person to withstand harassment and hostile work environments alone.

    • HC says:

      Yeah, he was badly treated, even though he followed the rules. And yes, the rules _should_ be clear, fair, and enforced…but at least a lot of the time, they won’t be. That’s life.

      There are the rules…and then there are the _real_ rules, which don’t always match what is written down on paper, and you really need to be aware of what the ‘real’ rules of the organization, or workplace, are before you proceed.

      If the HR department is determined to remove anyone who makes waves, regardless of the official rules…then anything you do that catches their notice is bad for you. If the boss has a fair-haired boy who can do no wrong, then it’s no use arguing the point, the fair-haired boy will probably win, and even if he loses the bad will will be worse than the original problem, more often than not.

      Life isn’t fair, and ‘should’ counts for very little in practice.

  12. Major says:

    Would this advice apply in the military environment?

    I’m in the military. Where the geeks are promoted. They aren’t bullies. But the men who wouldn’t get the time of day from a woman, yet b/c they hold higher rank they get this false sense of courage allowing them to way overstep in situations that are unacceptable. I’m being bothered by a man that seriously out-ranks me. It isn’t blatant comments, except for the one about thinking of me and this ‘obsession.’ He leaves me things in my office chair, he emails me on the week-end and his days off, calling me on his day off and saying “This is…” and using his first name. This is totally unprofessional behavior and inappropriate in a military environment. It’s not blatant comments, but more of mind games. For example, the other day I was discussing my next assignment and he looked at me dead-on and said, “You aren’t going anywhere.”

    I’m ignoring him, now unless I’m being tasked with a project. If I have to I will confront him.

    It’s very difficult to work with this person, b/c I’ve lost complete respect now. In civilian society, without the benefit of his rank he would be a Woody Allen-type. But with the rank on his shoulders, he gains this false courage and thinks he can control.

    But reporting in the military is tough. There is a system in place, but it is a true good-ol’ boy system. Although admittedly drastically improved from the past, I’d still be thought of as the woman who must have done something to encourage this man. So, my hat is off to women that do report this sort of activity in a military environment.

    * * * * *  * *
    This is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. I’m really sorry that you are having to endure this, but you do a great service to a lot of women by describing your situation.

    Based on the description here….

    This is harrassment becuase the person is attracted to the women and he is getting extra, special time with her (for example, on the phone, on the weekend, on a first-name basis which is not ordinary for this position). He is also using his rank to make her life difficult, limit her professionally, and underine her authority. The problem is that it’s all very subtle, and he’s not actually breaking the law. Or, if he is, it would be extremely hard to prove in a he-says/she-says battle.

    Reporting sexual harrassment in the military is a joke. The number of women who report and find that nothing is accomplished is huge, and the number of times men retalliate for this reporting, with no repercussions to them, is also huge. Corporate life is a harrassment disaster, and the miliatary is worse.

    There is no point in talking about the need to reform, the need to stand up against these men, etc. The woman writing here clearly needs to keep her job. She is likely to jeopardize her ability to support her kids if she reports the harrassment with the intent to bring this man in line.

    The best thing to do is figure out how to get reassigned so you don’t have to work with this person. One way to do it is to find some man or woman who has a little bit of authority in this area of assignments and can understand that you are feeling sexual tension from your boss without you reporting it. My thinking is that you will get more done if you do not make an official report, if you do not make a claim that someone is legally bound to report. Someone will understand the implied problem and want to help you. This is what I hope. I think that each organization has someone in it who can be an ally. Even the military.

    This is really sad advice to be giving. I feel really bad for everyone stuck in this situation. But most women simply cannot afford to jeopardize their careers in order to intigate the workplace refore that the legal community and legilslators should be taking responsilbity for.

    An important thing to remember, while you are figuring out how to get out from under this guy, is that he is really harrassing you, and you are totally normal to feel uncomfortable and hate it. And your reactions to his bad behavior are rational.

    Good luck.

    Penelope

  13. Major says:

    In reading my post, I’m not even sure my situation is sexual harassment. I didn’t think it was until the comment the other day. At that point, I felt my work environment became hostile. I feel a sense of dread in coming to the office and seeing this person. As if it isn’t hard enough to be a full-time military working mother.

  14. Tina K. says:

    What if a boss tried to feel you up (after you repeatedly ask him not to) and you kick him in the groin? Will that get you fired? Seriously, I’m just wondering. If the law won’t help you, is it okay to usual physical self-defence?

  15. Bill Cammack says:

    Tina:

    It depends who takes it ‘legal’ first. If he complains to HR (assuming he isn’t the top of the food chain), you’re going to need to demonstrate WHY you kicked him. Without a history of your complaints to HR, it’ll be your word against his. Good luck with that.

  16. Rafique Shah says:

    This article is interesting. I am a male, foreigner, with a different sect of religion and culture than the majority. I have been in US for over 10 years, and in those year I have managed to improve my English accent, just because I faced a lot of harrasment in the beginning due to my foreign accent. There are some people at work who sometimes ask me stupid questions about my religion, culture, and some people just don’t care. But then again there are some who are my friends, understand how I feel, but yet make comments that I don’t believe. The other day, one of my coworkers, who goes to a walk with me everyday, said that it’d be fun to burn your holy book on a bbq grill. I took that personally, but decided not to respond in any way, because I don’t know how to respond.

    I have had experiences where people have asked me to tell them funny and strange stories from back home because they think US is the best place to be. Two people have asked me if there is a derogatory term for my kind of people, like the N word for black people, in a joking manner though.

    On an outerstate trip with my wife, someone asked me if the trip is business or pleasure, and I said pleasure, then the same friend who thought it would be fun to burn the holy book, said “Oh yeah, take a lot of pictures”, and made clear by laughing what he was talking about.

    I agree the HR doesn’t do anything, you have to be able to stand for yourself, and you learn it with time. Now when I get a chance, I bring myself down, and make cheap and dirty comments about the coworkers who harras me as well. People may not laugh at my jokes and comments, but at least they know that I am not a toy anyone can play with. When people ask me for funny/strage stories from back home, I tell them

    I used to think that being an foreigner, I represent my culture/religion/country to people that I meet. Totally not the case, you have to bring yourself down to the levels of people who are mean, and be mean to them. However, taking that approach, sometimes you are bound to step on people that haven’t harmed you, or are really nice. But I think this is the best approach. It is almost worthless to show yourself helpful, caring, or nice, you get taken advantage of every single day.

    And I think that is how HR thinks, they are there to support the company. If you ever read the employee document when you signed up for the job, you find out that its really not in your favor. At the end of the day, its just a job, you’re being paid for being away from your life, no one said you will enjoy it, in most cases.

  17. Lizzy Docks says:

    So, I wish I would have read this website before I turned my co-worker in for sexual harassment. Talk about a disaster. Of course nothing could be proved, it was he said she said and they were done with it. I attemtped to be assertive and demand some accomodations so I wasnt working with him and ended up being asked to resign with 4 weeks compensation and good references. I said hell no, they arent getting rid of me that easily. But it is so true, unless its severe and one has proof there is really no point. I ended up suffering even more after the fact and the guy is even higher on his horse than he was before. Silly me, always trying to do the right thing.

  18. Andrew Boniface says:

    I once worked at a factory where conditions were deplorable enough it was almost worth it for the bragging rights. A woman who worked near me had a poster saying “Warning, Sexual harassment occuring in this area will not be reported, but it will be graded”

    I think, at least in that one workplace that this served as a more effective deterrent than anything management could have enforced–if thay had been inclined to do so.

    That said, if you witness _someome else_ getting harrassed, reporting it may be in order.

    • HC says:

      Under no circumstances should you report someone else being harrassed until you _clear it with that person_ first!!

      You can’t know if she (or he for that matter) wants the headache and trouble, or even if he or she can _afford_ the trouble that may well come from even a successful action unless you ask them beforehand.

  19. Cynthia Milam says:

    I Cynthia Milam was sexual harrass by a head boss at Amrak, it got to the point that he called me in his office and he had his pants down, and when I did not reply, he told me that he was going to firer me. I press charges on him and took him to court, Amtak officals told me if I press charges on him that I will regret it.I took Oliver Cone to court and he admitted to having sex on the job and doing drugs with females employees for over 40 years, then the judge told me that Oliver Cone admit the truth, but the deposition is gag, my Attorney let Amtak limini all of my evident, and his deposition was order to be detroyed,and the Judge used to work for Amtrak as an Attorney. This happen to me April 1997, Went to court July of 2000, Then Amtak fired my daughter while she was on maternity leave Oct.2000, then hit my husband with a train in January 15, 2001, my husband was a machinist, I got his first Judge fired off his case and the first Attorney, i caught them taking favors from Amtak, second Judge was fair, the second Attorney was caught taking favors from Amtrak, taking him to court October 18, 2007. You would think that this would not be still happening in the work place as of 2000, but it is !Woman are still not free from the sexual harrament that happen in the work place. This need to change, I call every TV show, I been trying to SPEACK OUT to woman, that we don’t have laid on out backs to work or to rise up in the work place or just keep a job. I look up to Anita Hill. I would love to share my story with the world. Cell# 240-462-5300. Amtrak is being investigated by Congress, for paying off Attorneys and Judges.

  20. Patrick KIlhoffer says:

    In this day of everyone having a cell phone, I would think this would be less of a problem. If he calls you into his office and he is standing there in his underwear, take a picture. If a guy is harrassing you constantly, make a recording. I’m guessing that would end the problem right there.

  21. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    Speaking from personal experience, I would have to agree that reporting harassment is only likely to result in retaliation. Employers will only try to find ways to get rid of you, including falsely accusing you in order to have an excuse to fire you and protect themselves.
    In most cases, harassment cannot be proved in court. Even coworkers who have witnessed it will suddenly say they can’t remember it. Furthermore, sexual harassment (at least in Massachusetts) is only covered in certain circumstances. For example, the company must have at least 12 employees to be covered. So if a woman is working for a small company, she will not be allowed to file. Also, if a woman is a contractor working on a building project with other contractors, and the male contractors are harassing her, she cannot file. Cab drivers are exempt from sexual harassment law and are legally permitted to humiliate and degrade female cabbies. If a woman is being harassed by someone who does not work for her company, it is legal–for example, if a woman is being harassed by the bus driver while a passenger on the bus.

  22. Chris says:

    Why does the way this article was written suggest that only women are victims of sexual harassment?

  23. Bill Cammack says:

    @Chris: I don’t think the article was written to suggest that only women are victims of sexual harassment. It just so happens that it was written BY a woman, and her first paragraph says “having a plan to deal with the problem is a good idea for all women”. The replies have followed in line with the original article.

    Having said that, if you’d like to contribute along the lines of males being sexually harassed in the workplace, I’m sure the ‘group’ would be willing to discuss your comments.

  24. big dick says:

    wait wait. i understand, retaliation and i understand where you are coming from but i held out until i was fired because i did not go ahead and give some dude who was my supervisor blow jobs. seriously, i should have in the month i worked at this place, a job i loved, should have called the police. wtf are you condoming here? abuse? if it gets too weird then something needs to be done. if a person is all right with such abuse then that is up to them and i get the fear but this kind of stuff can really hurt people, both parties. one thinks its ok and progresses or keeps on and the other does not think its ok. there is a time to really find a moral compass again and i hope people reading what i have just wrote find their strength in doing what they need to do even if they are scared. honestly, this is the only way that people eventually are scared back enough to behave themselves on the job. i mean, who are you lady? are you some kind of prostitute to you labor? cmon cause prostitutes have choices even more than you do and probably make more money without the taxes. this site has made me kind of sick and i bet you feel sick for putting up with what you feel you have to do. basically and up front, you are sending the wrong message at this time and eventually in time people will see thru your denial.

  25. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    To Big:
    No one thinks that it is condoning; it is just reality that if you complain, the only person who will get hurt is you. As far as going to the police, well, I DID go to the police–three times. Which is how I ended up arrested on false charges. It turned out the police were being sued by their female officers for sexual harassment, and I walked in thinking they would protect me. So to teach me a lesson, they handcuffed me and took me to jail in front of my harassers to humiliate me. I lost my job, nearly lost my house, and now I have a criminal record. I have a very hard time finding work. There is no taking the police to court; they fabricate evidence, destroy the real evidence, and the judge ALWAYS sides with them.
    Sexual harassers will ALWAYS falsley accuse the victim in order to discredit her, and it will usually have a permanent effect on her career and reputation.

  26. michelle hayes says:

    win or lose …you have to do what you feel is right , sue the company or walk away

    you are the one who has to live with your actions

    i just chose to fight the company i worked for
    and if i lose the case , oh well….

    K.E.H Camera

  27. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    Good luck, Michelle. I sincerely hope you win. Please let us know how it goes.

  28. sam says:

    When I was 19 years old I was sexually harrassed at work by three women. It hurt me greatly. Women do inappropriate things at work all the time. There is a terrible double standard. The quote “he did it to himself” reminds me. When I was fired for talking about what they were doing to me one of my harrassers told me “you did it to yourself”!

  29. Danielle says:

    Wow this post has been alive for a long time. Since I’m only extending it by a month and I have only been reading this blog for a few months I’ll put in my 2 cents.

    I have heard this advice for women before and I think it holds true for men as well. There is a threshold of a number of things below “severe enough to hold up in court” that could easily be handled in this manner.

    Remember this is “The Brazen Careerist” not “Do the Right Thing” so her advice is specifically tailored on how to address it with a minimal impact to your career.

  30. Dee says:

    My experience with a boss who lured me away from my previous job, then proceeded to tell me 1) his sex life sucked but 2) mine sounded interesting (from a bragging boyfriend I had), was that women who get harassed are supposed to be calm and rational at all times if they want to be believed. You are not allowed to show any anger or distress, because then you are “unstable” and it’s all your fault. Also, you need a voice-activated recorder on at all times, whenever you are alone with a man, and must record all your phone convos. You will not be able to use this in court, however. Therefore, blackmail is much more effective than going to HR or to court. Threaten to play the recordings 1) to his wife/girlfriend and 2) over the P.A. system so all colleagues, superiors and clients will hear it.

  31. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    I agree with the above post. Better yet, if you can hide a small video camera somewhere BEFORE you file a complaint, then you would have proof. Problem is, most women think that if they just go to whomever is the authority, it will be dealt with and she will be protected. It is only after she gets retaliated against that she does research and reads columns like this.
    Another thing that I would do BEFORE you go to HR is to see an attorney. Never, EVER just walk in and file a complaint, or talk about filing a complaint to coworkers. Keep your mouth shut until you’ve seen a lawyer.

  32. Michelle says:

    I don’t agree on everything that was mention about sexual harassment. I’m speaking from experience I have been working with the same person for about eighteen-months now,and this same guy have been sayin sexual remarks to me. I have always blown it off hoping that one day it would stop but it never did stop. Today he loged on to my hand-held and froze my machine up on purpose, so that left me unable to do my work for the day. I had to tell me supervisor as well as his supervisor and I also called cooperate office. Yes, I was affraid of saying anything because I did not want to lose my job. And thats the same reason why I didn’t say any thing sooner because I didn’t want him to lose his job because I know he has a family to support and I didn’t want that on my conscience label the lady that pull the sexual harassment card. But your column was stating even if you are being harassed don’t say any thing and it would work it self out. But I shouldn’t have to hide and be afraid of losing my job because I did nothing wrong. I also confided in my co-workers and they were all telling me to report him, but I was afraid to. As of today am not afraid any longer.If the company choose to get rid of me at least they know what type of person they have working for them.

  33. Nidhi Chopra says:

    Well, mostly it does not work because the culprit is very powerful person. Company might even want to protect him & not the victim. This happens mostly with unmarried girls/women. When you are new in your job or temporary/contractual/on training and you are worried about your CR(confidential report). This is a men’s world. Women turn against women here in India. Unity is the only solution to this problem. Men won’t let us work honestly. I have also heard of men who face harassments from female co-workers but that is again very rare. Sexual advances and passes make young women very sick & then they can’t concentrate on their work. Then it is very easy to write a bad CR about them, label them as failures & throw them out. Family also gets scared of these rich affluent powerful people of high class. No body is there to share. No shoulder to cry upon.
    In all the chaos — you can loose many things-job/degree/education, reputation, credibility, peace of mind, health, and may be even your boy friend. Every body thinks “She always complains against other men. Either she is mad or thinks she is too pretty.”
    Anyways. With time, we’ll all grow up.

  34. Construction Scheduling Software - Shawn says:

    My wife has this problem. She works in the hotel industry where it is an old boys club. She basically doesn’t report it for some of the reasons mentioned here. In my industry (construction), harassment is quite prevalent, too.

  35. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    Nidhi, women turn against women here in the USA, too. I agree that unity is the answer, too, but I have never seen women sticking together, or even sticking up for another woman. Men, however, DO stick together–even to the point of lying in court for one another.

  36. Bill Cammack says:

    @Cheryl: Women (in general) can’t afford to stick together on this topic, because they appear to be empathizers and become targeted for the same treatment as the harassed woman.

    Men, OTOH, stick together, because it’s all about “getting girls”. It’s what we do in the street. It’s what we do in the bars. It’s what we do at the baseball game. It’s what we do on vacation. The only place where it’s restricted is in the workplace, and that’s only been relatively recently, and because of mostly unenforceable legislation.

    “Go along to Get along” seems to be the order of the day.

  37. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    Hi Bill;
    While I do agree with your comment regarding why women don’t stick together, I disagree with your comment about the men. Many people think that sexual harassment is about harmless flirting or pursuing a romantic interest. In reality, it is about viciously and maliciously humiliating and degrading a woman in order to establish dominance and male superiority. It is the same mind-set that rapists have. Sometimes it is about trying to chase women out of the workplace to establish “male turf.”
    Actually, I think that the reason men stick together is built right into their DNA. “Teamwork” starts at Little League. While loyalty and sticking together is a good thing in things such as team sports and brotherhood among soldiers, it can be also be horrific, such as street gangs, group bullying, and gang-rape.

  38. JJ Wiggins says:

    Wow… I was feeling bad about wanting to comment on this thread (seeing as it was written in 2006) but I get to the end of the comments and see one from 2009, so I don’t feel too bad…

    I just wrote a blog posting regarding this topic and further expounding on what someone should do if they are facing harassment due to race (question of the first commenter). Unfortunately, I couldn’t offer much more advice than Penelope did… especially to the poor girl above who is in the military. Feel free to review it here:

    Career Guru Says Don’t Report Sexual Harrassment

  39. Debbie Barichello says:

    No you are wrong. You can file with EEOC about sexual harassment,Retaliation and more. I have been a victim of sexual harassment by my company and yes they retaliated against me and fired me. Compass group HR did not care. I was a victim of my co-workers stealing from my purse and more. They are still working for Compass and I was fired. I filed with EEOC and they are investigating. My boss and co-workers did the sexual harassing. I am not gonna stop until this kind of harassment stops.

    • HC says:

      Unfortunately, even here there’s more to it. I’m thinking of a local restaurant franchise that I know about. A few years ago they had an EEOC complaint filed.

      Now, I don’t know the details of it, maybe the complaint was justified, maybe not. What I do know is that the net result was that either the franchisee or the parent company decided the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth, and _closed four restaurants in the franchise_. A whole bunch of people lost their jobs, including some I’m certain were not part of the complaint on either side.

      That doesn’t mean complaining to the EEOC is always a bad idea, but there are _always_ risks and the potential for blow back.

      I’m not saying ‘don’t’. I’m saying ‘think very carefully and realistically first’.

  40. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    In Massachusetts, the EEOC just tells you to call MCAD. Not everyone is allowed to file at the MCAD. Cab drivers aren’t allowed, or people working for very small companies.
    Good for you for your determination. I hope you can make a difference.

  41. Famous Art Paintings For Sale says:

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  42. J. Anita Lafayette says:

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    • Alicia says:

      I have yet to check out any of these links but I wanted to comment just on the title of the book. Sexual harassment DOES feel like prostitution. Especially in my situation. I was recommended for a job by the same person that ended up harassing me. I let it go on for almost a year before I said anything to him because I felt like I owed him – well, I was also in denial – and calling him out I thought would be an insult and show that I wasn’t appreciative — Gosh it’s all soo stupid now. I just can’t believe it all happened. I’ve lost almost all confidence in myself to make sound decisions. I’m hypersensitive to being around people (esp. men). I have so much pent-up anger and frustration and regret. I wish I could wish it all away.

  43. MLM Training says:

    And I think that is how HR thinks, they are there to support the company. If you ever read the employee document when you signed up for the job, you find out that its really not in your favor. At the end of the day, its just a job, you’re being paid for being away from your life, no one said you will enjoy it, in most cases.

    • Cheryl Ahmed says:

      I agree, MLM. HR will only come down on the sexual harasser if the company didn’t like him in the first place. In that case, the victim’s complaint serves as ammunition to bolster their case against him. If they like you both equally, they will just say they have no evidence, then let it go, leaving the victim a target for retaliation. If the company likes the harasser better than the victim, or the harasser is in a higher position, the victim is screwed. They will start finding fault with her work, assign her unpleasant work, move her to small, cramped desk, and doing everything to get her to quit. Formerly friendly coworkers see how the company is treating her and will want to distant themselves from her for the sake of their own careers.

  44. Amit Gupta says:

    I just came on this post from google. Even after almost 3 years your subject is valid and relevent. Nothing has been done in all these years and we cannot hope anything will happen in future too. It is a complex world of relationship where people with power and contacts control what gets reported and what should remain in closed walls. reporting sexual harrasment is a bitter battle that in itself is a mental torture. There have been few convincing wins in this front but they in no way signify even an iota that is happening today. the problem is even worse in second and third world countries where laws are even more worthless.

    • T123 says:

      Your exactly right that this stems from the world economic culture. I shudder to think of what sexual harrassment goes on in those sweatshops where our cheap goods come from. I don’t think there is a feminist movement in China and other emerging capitalist countries with communist governments. Perhaps we can stop sexual harrassment where it begins, the pocketbook. I only hope that the collective pocket of the people are deeper than the deep pockets of the few.

  45. Amit Gupta says:

    One more thing………….since i am doing a bit of research in this subject……you search google and you can even do primary research….you would find the figures which at all do not support what is prevailing in todays scenario. People prefer to change jobs, stay at home, or learn to live with sexual harrasment than even openely talking about it with their family or friends. the fear is always on the person end who is facing it and is getting victimised than the person who ought to be punished.

  46. Cheryl Ahmed says:

    You are so right, Amit. The people with power and contacts DO get to control what gets reported and what is hushed up. In my case, the people in power were even able to prevent me from posting the truth on the town’s online newspaper. All my posts were deleted, and they kept me from accessing the forum.
    For the very few wins, there are thousands that are just swept under the carpet. It is rare that a victim gets justice.
    You are also right that the victim can’t even talk about it with even her family and friends. They frequently blame the victim, because they want to believe in a just world, where bad things only happen to people who deserve it.

  47. Christie says:

    I can understand why this post continues to get comments 3 years after it was written. My sexual harassment story has a bit of a twist, first because it happened to my husband. All of the incidents occured in front of witnesses-his co-workers, his immediate supervisor and another department head, all of whom smiled or laughed uncomfortably when it occured.
    A female co-worker was frequently touching his butt, running her hand up his shirt, called him a “wet-back” for a little racial discrimination (at least she added a little variety), and made numerous sexual comments to him. Mind you, almost all of this occured over a period of about 3 months with the higher-ups in the company as witnesses. My husband tried politely talking with her but when this didn’t work he became more verbally aggressive with her. He then requested his immediate suporvisor to intervene or have them work different shifts or days (events occured in a health care setting). Eventually he had to file a complaint with HR. This is where the story takes a bit of a spin. HR said they were afraid to address the issue with her because she was a midget(dwarf/little person) who had been threatening them with an ADA lawsuit because the time clock was too high and she had to use a stool to reach it when she clocked in/out.They did eventually speek with her about the situation.HR told my husband that their conversations were all confidential but that HR had no control over what the perpetrator may decide to spread through the rumor mill. The female who started the whole problem did spread the most insane rumors about the whole ordeal and my husband ended up having to see his PCP and start xanax due to the stress caused when co-workers tried to retaliate.
    In the end it all worked out because my husband did stand up and defend himself,laid the crazy rumors to rest (rather angrily because he didn’t feel he should discuss this with those not involved), and the girl was eventually transferred to another department. The transfer was requested by HER because it had become to stressful for her to work in a hostile work environment. Her and my husbands co-workers set out on a mission to shut her up after they saw/learned what truly happened. She was essentially shunned and couldn’t handle the stress.About 1 1/2 years after this chain of events, she was permanently terminated and *sadly* found out that the time clock being located above her head was not a violation of the ADA. After all, a stool was provided for her so that she would be able to clock in/out.

  48. Annabelle says:

    The only thing I’ve found as a woman to help prevent sexual harassment from a guy is befriending the guy’s wife. The look of horror on the guy’s face is priceless.

    • Elissa says:

      That’s a good point, but one of the harassers in my professional career would proposition me about his “open marriage.” He would parade his wife and children in front of me while giving me a suggestive look as if it was part of the deal! He would come into my office and say that he and his wife were “open.” On occasion he would ogle my rear, tell me he would “take good care of me” and that I have a “great body,” etc. I tried to blow it off, talk to him directly, etc. The funny thing is that I’m not flirty, over 35, and never dress in a sexy manner. And you you do not want to know how high-profile and well-paid this guy was with multiple professional licenses to boot!… I just tried to ignore it and could hardly believe it, but his male ego was a problem that did not help my career, even when I went to management. Things just became more weird because it was a top-down cultural problem at the office. I’ve had the most trouble with lawyer co-workers here in the South, where apparently, marriage is merely a front! See John Edwards, for example. I’m about ready to move back north. I hear women can get the treatment they deserve and equal pay in Minneapolis or Chicago…I’m ready for the 21rst century! =)

  49. Alisa Bowman says:

    I somehow missed this post the first time around and just clicked through from your most recent post. One of the considerations you left out of your post here is this: the greater good. Many years ago, I was in such a situation and I said nothing because I assumed no good could ever come of it (basically what you are saying here). Later, I learned that another woman had come forward. I ended up coming forward to support her. Low and behold 6 other co-workers eventually filed complaints. Eventually the problematic employee was fired. You’re right. HR was worried about liability, and it sickens me to think about the questions the company lawyer asked me. But the right thing ended up getting done. I can’t say it was good for my career, but it wasn’t bad for it either. In the end, coming forward allowed me to sleep at night.

    • Cheryl Ahmed says:

      You’re absolutely right, Alisa. Although historically the trailblazer usually pays a terrible price, she paves the way to make it easier for our daughters and grandaughters. It has always been this way and will ever be this way. All of us should remember to express our admiration and respect to the few courageous women who paid dearly for stepping up and speaking out.
      The same thing happened to me the first time I was sexually harassed. After I came forward, it turned out the harasser had been groping several women in the company. The company did not have a sexual harassment policy at that time and didn’t know what to do. So they made a policy. A few years later, another woman was sexually harassed by a different creep. THIS time, the company knew exactly what to do — they fired the guy.

    • Anita Yarbery says:

      Three cheers for you! And any women who spek out.

  50. Rachell says:

    I have been racially harassed and assaulted on the job by my supervisor and I did not appreciate it at all.
    I did complain by chain of command and nothing was done but I did have all my emails of my complaints. You must have a paper trail if you want to file a complaint and you must have witnesses that are willing to speak on your behalf. We must not be afraid of doing the right thing because they threaten to fire you, threaten to sue them and see how they like it. Remember you do have rights but you must prove your case by any means.

    I was fired because of retaliation and it did bring me alot of emotional distress but think about all those other people that will be harassed after you are gone. Yes, it is worth fighting for yourself and others.
    It is time to stop employer abuse and keep good records of what is going on such as the incident, date, time and who was involved and any witnesses.

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