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Does your employee handbook address sexual harassment?

If you are experiencing sexual harassment in your place of employment, check your employee handbook to find out how the company addresses this subject.

Sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment. Your employer must take steps to stop this from happening as outlined in the handbook, but is company policy sufficient to stop the problem?

Understand the Supreme Court view

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination, but it does not specifically address sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the United States Supreme Court has determined that “sufficiently severe or pervasive” harassment that results in a hostile work environment is a violation of federal law.

Record your experience

First, confront the person causing the harassment. Perhaps this is a male colleague who tells lewd jokes. Perhaps he does whatever he can to get close to you and has brushed up against you too many times. Explain that this sort of behavior makes you uncomfortable and document your conversation with written notes or, even better, through a journal you keep on your computer.

Report the problem

If the sexual harassment continues, your employee handbook should direct you to a department or individual to lodge your complaint. In larger companies, this is usually the human resources department. HR representatives should always exhibit impartiality. Keep in mind that they will ask you questions about the incidents, and they will also talk to the person accused of harassment. They will look into your personnel file and his personnel file and review the notes you kept.

Prepare for the outcome

Your employer’s representative, whether this is human resources or someone in management, will not want to blame your coworker or punish him unless there is indisputable evidence of sexual harassment. They may not take action, explaining that their investigation was inconclusive. Therefore, you may have to continue working with this person.

Consider another option

Your employee handbook may not sufficiently address the kind of employee behavior you find offensive, and your employer may appear to be indifferent. If you feel you will either have to resign or continue working in a hostile environment, you may consider professional legal assistance from outside the company. Remember that you have rights, one of which is to file a complaint concerning sexual harassment.