Why I’m not deleting this post…
There were not laws to protect women in 2006. It was a scary, lonely time for women. We didn’t always have language to describe what was happening to us at work.
When you reported sexual harassment in 2006 you got fired. And there were no repercussions for the harasser because no one cared. In 2019, we are making progress in supporting victims, but we still have a long way to go. And we can’t know how far we’ve come unless we save evidence of what life was like before.

—Penelope, Aug. 2, 2019


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.

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86 replies
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  1. susan
    susan says:

    I actually agree with this post, being a woman and in my mid-40s and just fired for someone younger and cheaper. Did I have a suit? Absolutely. Could I have proven it? Maybe. Would it have affected my hiring potential even if I won? Absolutely.

    • Rachell
      Rachell says:

      Hi Susan,
      You have the right to do what is best for you and I am here for you for moral support if you need it.
      You do have a case for age discrimination and they cannot give you a bad reference. I wish you all the best and lodge your complaint with the EEOC and let them investigate
      your complaint.

  2. Cheryl Ahmed
    Cheryl Ahmed says:

    The problem with Susan’s case is that they hired someone cheaper to do her job. Since companies are legally allowed to fire anyone for any reason except discrimination, the company could easily make a case that they found someone cheaper to do the job. Unless she can prove that they decided she was too old, she probably cannot win.

  3. psp console
    psp console says:

    Penelope, but why exactly did your parents cut off the money? Were they afraid you couldn’t handle the world on your own? I’m sure they made the right decision, but I wonder why so? Thanks for the post.

  4. Rachell
    Rachell says:

    If you are being harassed due to sex,age or discriminated the burden of proof is on you to prove.
    I would have recorded conversations however in some states its illegal to record someone without them knowing check the law in your state. keep written documentation of you being harassed and find out if this supervisor or employee have harassed other people and make your case through chain of command. Your employer cannot retaliate against you because you complained of your rights being violated on the job. Retaliation is more easier to prove because in most cases it happen shortly after you complain and your employer cannot fire you because you are under a protected class after you complain see EEOC website for more information. Employers are terrified of retaliation cases don’t let anyone tell you different.

  5. Cheryl Ahmed
    Cheryl Ahmed says:

    Well, in my case, I do have written documentation, in fact, I was in counseling for sexual harassment at the time I was retaliated against. Furthermore, I have phone records that showed I called several sexual harassment attorneys, and the DA. Also, the police who arrested me on false charges were being sued for retaliating against other sexual harassment victims by falsely accusing them, too. Also, I can show that the police destroyed the videotape of the incident, and can show that I filed a motion to obtain that videotape.
    In spite of all of this, attorneys tell me that none of this counts as evidence. Only eyewitnesses will do. And all of the eyewitnesses don’t want to get involved, or “don’t remember” or “never saw anything.”
    Ironically, they didn’t need any evidence to have me arrested, thrown in jail and take away my Hackney license. The harassers only had to make up a lie.
    Here in Massachusetts, the EEOC doesn’t do anthing, and neither does the MCAD.
    I have filed charges against them in both district and superior court, but the judges don’t even make them show up. The court just takes my money and dismisses my cases. Any man can commit any crime against me, and the courts, DA and the police will do nothing to help me. In fact, they just help the criminals. They won’t let me have restraining orders, won’t let me have the videotape, won’t assign me a prosecutor, and won’t let me have a jury trial.

  6. nina
    nina says:

    what to do if your boss has a personal anger with you? and he even try to scare you that he will arm you..i have his message on facebook.

    • Cheryl Ahmed
      Cheryl Ahmed says:

      Nina, if you can, transfer to another department. Unfortunately, probably the only thing you can do is to find another job. Until that time, you must be on your absolute best behavior so as to not give him any justification to make your life miserable.
      If your company has “exit interviews” with HR, you could inform them of the reason you quit.

  7. esoy1989
    esoy1989 says:

    Harassment to woman is big crime in the eyes of the public, violence against woman.
    In the part of the woman, don’t make any action that lead the man to make unexpected action.

  8. Janel
    Janel says:

    I’m surprised that a website would tolerate the postings with links like those….this is a serious matter not a place to post your perverted links.

    I would like to know how sexual harassment from a female boss to a female employee should be handled. Everyone always assumes it’s a male boss that’s guilty of the harassment. No one talks about the others.

  9. Kenneth
    Kenneth says:

    in the 5th paragraph you mean “prescribed” instead of “proscribed,” which is pretty much the opposite

  10. Aiai
    Aiai says:

    Rooter Nikitinska, is the team leader at wallgrens at Delray Beach, FL at Federal Hwy and Lonson Blvd, he is a croata who thing is a pure race superior, than every girl need fuck him to work there, because he is the director’s toy, or maybe just the same secret group. 

  11. Robert Rivera
    Robert Rivera says:

    I truly do not believe 80 percent of  women have been sexual harressed . My only distractions I have had in the work place are crappy people ,low wages and nasty women . I have worked aroudn the lowest of lowest type of characters and I have never seen sexual harresment take place .It always been the other way around . Men do not complain about it so why should women .Lets go on with life and realize that we are all human . 

  12. T123
    T123 says:

    The reason why crimes are so rampent is because all parties involved refuse to take responsibility and remedy the situation. At least the victims refuse to do so because they have few choices and few defenses if things backfire. This is true whether it is domestic violence in the “home” or sweatshops in China, or in America’s case, the big retail megastores that repeatedly ignore progressive labor policies.

    Unless we are talking about “jokes” , usually sexual harrassment is a power based offense where the victim is a captive audience, and where the only alternative is poverty. I agree that one cannot expect the victim to be a self starter in reporting the harrassment. However it is morally reprehensible to advise women not to report illegal activity in an article.

  13. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    I was sexually harassed and assaulted by the assistant manager. I was injured shortly before the first physical attack. I told the manager, he told me not to worry, he would handle it. He didn’t… I filed with the eeoc. The manager signed a sworn affidavit that he had to verbally reprimand ME for sexual harassment, and I exposed my front to get my way. I have been in therapy for over a year more, and cannot work. I have no income, no workers comp, BROKE! I am a basket case. All my career I have done a mans job, now I can’t! I have never had a problem with working with men. My best friend is a man. People (men or women), dont let this happen to you! Document everything! If you can, get a $30 mini recorder from wal-mart, and record conversations. By the way, I filed with the eeoc sept. 2010, filed with the police with a witness to one of the assaults. The guy was not arrested, and the eeoc, well… I am still waiting for Advance Auto Parts to be made to be responsible for the actions of their mangers. Ladies stay away from Timothy Bright in South Carolina! Unfortunately he is married, and pretty sure he lied to his wife the reason for him being fired.

  14. Phyllis
    Phyllis says:

    As a person who has encountered sexual harrassment, unfortunately reporting it has it’s negative side effects. The company is going to look out for itself and that means you probably will have to leave that company if you want to expand your career. Even though they might address it,you will never be just a regular employee. The workplace has not come that far when it comes to harrassment of any kind. Only when something major happens will they take it seriously.

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    ipad 3 says:

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  16. Nameless
    Nameless says:


    I’m looking for advice in what to do in my current work situation.

    A couple of years ago, a coworker had made sexual remarks to me and attempted to kiss me. The next day he apologized and I accepted. However, about a year ago he became my boss, and unfairly gave me a bad review. He has also yelled at me for “not doing my job” for taking a lunch break and has criticized me for many other numerous things.

    This past week, he was overseeing a big project I was involved in. One night we were working long hours and he began saying things that made me uncomfortable. After the project was completed, he treated me to lunch for a job well done, but again he began to make inappropriate comments.

    I’ve been trying to look for a new job for the past few months but have been unsuccessful. Please advice what I can do to protect myself and should I report him to HR? Are there any resources I can tap into for help?

    Thank you.

  17. sexual assault victim
    sexual assault victim says:

    so how much touching, grabbing and kissing means assault? This was my case with a man who was one step away from raping me and you’re telling me NOT to say anything?!!!??? After talking to him, he didn’t stop and you’re still telling me I should have kept my mouth shut like he wanted? You’re website should be shut down!

  18. No Name
    No Name says:

    I’m glad I read this article. Not too long after reading it, I had a creepy co-worker ask me out of the blue to sleep with him. I just told him off and knocked him down several pegs. He was all “oh don’t be mad can’t blame a guy” and I was like “whatever”.

    Now I stay away from him. Reporting it probably would have not helped. Instead I just smashed his ego a bit and that is most likely more effective than attempting to get him in trouble.

    Awsome advice.

  19. DJ
    DJ says:

    I am going thru a meditation for the sexual harassment at work. I verbally complained to H.R., then I went to court on anti harassment order which was denied because he would have gone to night shift because I would not go to swing. I suffered even more after. Then the same harasser wrote me a letter stating feelings, and lies. Then I got layed off and he never did. Now I am going to mediation. What do I do? I am scared!

  20. Em
    Em says:

    Suggesting to folks, who identify as women, to NOT report something as serious as sexual harassment has to be one of the most horrid things. Sexual harassment is a very serious issue that many women deal with. Reinforcing a patriarchal society by telling them to remain quiet is definitely NOT going to help anyone in this society. Continuing to keep the tape over anyone, especially a woman’s mouth is repulsive. If you feel we’re not in a society where women can speak, the least you can do is pose solutions for a potentially better society instead of silencing women.

  21. mangay
    mangay says:

    Are you mentally deficient or morally retarded Penelope Trunk? Please never have children. I shudder to think what would become of the victim girls amd rapist sons you would be raising. If you already have kids maybe you should not be allowed to raise them

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