Sexual harassment in the workplace is increasing at an alarming rate. Recently, the hashtag #metoo has been trending for a lot of working women who have finally come up with their stories of harassment at workplace.
Sexual harassment can leave you in a very perplexed state and most of the time, it leaves you wondering, what to do next?
Here’s what –
Identify Whether the Conduct is Sexual Harassment?
There is a high possibility that you have been sexually harassed in your workplace and are unaware of it, although the behavior makes you extremely uncomfortable. This happens because we are often unable to draw a line between what’s acceptable and what’s not.
For instance, if your male colleague or manager says, “Hey, nice dress.”- It is not sexual harassment. But if he says, “Hey. Nice dress, you should wear it to the client meeting tomorrow”- It could amount to sexual harassment.
When assessing whether a question or remark is sexual harassment, they key is to assess whether it was ‘unwelcome’ or not. But if you find yourself asking if another person’s remark was inappropriate or not, then the behaviour has already met the unwanted, unwelcome standard.
Are consensual relationships in a workplace sexual harassment?
No, consensual relationships do not fit the criteria of ‘unwelcome’. As long as both individuals agree on the relationship, it cannot amount to sexual harassment.
How to Respond if you are Being Sexually Harassed?
Sexual harassment can come from anyone, whether your colleague who sits next to you or your boss working in an entirely different building. And while handling sexual harassment from a colleague can be simpler, sexual harassment from your boss or manager can be a lot more complicated.
When a colleague harasses you –
The easiest way to confront a colleague about their behaviour is simple and straight talking. You want to let them know that their behaviour was inappropriate and should be stopped. If you are sarcastic while talking to them, or blame them for their behaviour, they might end up defending it instead of apologizing.
For instance –
Suppose your colleague keeps texting you on your personal phone number for things related and not related to work and you want him to stop.
Saying something like, “Why do you always keep texting me on my phone?” would make him defensive.
Instead, if you really want him to consider what you have to say, say something like, “I like to keep my phone number private. Could you please email me if something work-related comes up next time? I respond to emails faster than text messages.”
This statement directs the blame towards a genuine focus on how his behaviour affects you.
When a Superior or Client Harasses you –
When you are sexually harassed by a client or superior, you might choose not to address it at all because it might embarrass you or offend the harasser. But sending across a clear message is necessary. If your superior or client suddenly becomes too ‘friendly’ and it makes you uncomfortable, you could always say something like- “We have a lot left to accomplish, let’s get back to business.”
Most importantly, do not laugh off sexual harassment just to avoid an awkward moment. Laughing at sexual advances can send a mixed signal to the other. If the sexual advances still do not stop, you could clearly express that the behaviour makes you uncomfortable.
Direct confrontation of sexual harassment with a superior or client can be difficult. For this reason, the law requires the formation of an Internal Committee to handle sexual harassment cases in companies with more than 10 employees.
The Internal Committee can assist you in speaking to the harasser and resolving the sexual harassment complaint without direct confrontation. Any form of confrontation with a superior is not easy but a well-trained IC will ensure that all those involved in the incident can achieve some sense of normalcy after the case is closed.
Can you file a Complaint on Someone else’s Behalf?
Yes, you can file a complaint if you see someone around you being sexually harassed, provided you are familiar with the facts of the matter. It is the responsibility of the Internal Committee to investigate and get to the bottom of the complaint.
If you see a coworker being sexually harassed, you should encourage them to report the harassment, you can even talk to the harasser on behalf of the victim. Anonymous complaints can be filed to the Internal Committee if the harassment does not stop. However, do note that an Internal Committee can take forward the matter, only if a written complaint is made to them.
If you have been sexually harassed outside of the office premises, like the cafeteria, client meetings, traveling for work, you can still file a complaintwith the Internal Committee as the PoSH law has a very wide definition of the term ‘workplace.’
Addressing Sexual Harassment
There is a high degree of lack of awareness about sexual harassment amongst male and female employees which has lead to an increase in sexual harassment cases. Reporting sexual harassment, whether you were a victim or a witness, is essential in preventing a further increase in harassment.
Certain measures can be taken to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment –
- Assessing sexual harassment – Stay vigilant, keep an eye if a coworker is being sexually harassed and report it to the manager. Managers can also conduct internal sensitization sessions at regular intervals for preventing sexual harassment. Letting sexual harassment victims know that they are not standing alone and addressing workplace sexual harassment is an essential step towards preventing it.
- Request for awareness training – To encourage women to report sexual harassment, it is important for a company to conduct sensitization training to educate employees about sexual harassment. But if your organization does not conduct sensitization training, you could request one to prevent sexual harassment.
Training modules encourage employees in standing up against sexual harassment in the workplace. Employee training modules from Rainmaker can make employees more sensitive towards the present sexual harassment around them. Awareness training can assist in identifying and taking preventive measures against sexual harassment.
Start training and educating your employees now to provide a safe working environment.
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