What to do if you are being sexually harassed at work

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

From the sexual harassment suit filed against Yahoo executive Maria Zhang to the accusations that the Irvine, California office of Zillow had a frat house mentality, to the step down of GitHub CEO after harassment accusations were brought against him, 2014 saw its fair share of sexual harassment disputes.

And they remind us that harassment, sexual or not, continues to plague the work environment. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in this terrible predicament.

Harassment at the office can happen to anyone at any stage of their career and one of the first steps you can take to protect yourself is to speak up. Tell your aggressor that their behavior is bothering you, that it’s harassment and that you will not tolerate it. In some cases, the person inflicting harm will back up. They may also think twice about repeating their behavior with you or someone else.

In toxic work environments, though, some ill behavior is tolerated or encouraged. Speaking up may not have an immediate effect it’s in these places, but it’s imperative that you continue to advocate for yourself. Make sure to document what happens and when. Meet with the personnel at your company outlined in the employee handbook and don’t be afraid to follow up with them. If your company does not have a harassment policy, you can refer your complaint to the executives. Also, if it’s your boss doing the harassing, talk to his or her boss.

While being a victim of harassment can be jarring and darn right overwhelming, the key is not to stay quiet about what happened. The more vocal you are about the incident, the quicker your employer will act. In some instances, you may need to hire an attorney. Start your search by looking up people who have been in the same situation. Do a web search for sexual harassment suits and reach out to the law firms representing the victims. Even though many of the firms who represent high profile cases are pricey, they may be able to refer you to a more economical firm. Additionally, you may be able to get a referral from a law school in your area.

Over the last 20 years, there has been an increase in training by companies to prevent sexual harassment at the office. And although companies continue to fail in extinguishing this terrible behavior, you can protect yourself by asking: What would I do if I was sexually harassed tomorrow? A simple mental preparation can prove to be rewarding. After all, anyone can be sexually harassed—no matter who they are.

Belo Cipriani is a staffing professional, an award-winning author, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the career expert for the Ed Baxter Show on Talk Radio San Francisco 910AM. Learn more at BeloCipriani.com.

Belo Cipriani