Harassment is not an easy topic. Although it doesn't get to be discussed openly, physical, digital, or sexual harassment still happens from time to time at every workplace. What to do if you or someone you know become a person who is being harassed by a coworker? There are several steps in the process – make sure to get through them, speak out, and don't hesitate to seek help. You're not alone!
Types of harassment at work
Before getting into steps on how to respond to a harasser, it's essential to understand the issue and know what you're dealing with. There are five harassment types that can happen to anyone at work:
- Cyberbullying: The most common harassment is digital one or otherwise called cyberbullying. It's the most common because it's the easiest to perform. The harasser hides behind the digital wall, not showing any emotions or empathy. In the worst-case scenario, the person creates a fake personality without a possible trace to recognize the actual author. The harasser can write mean comments, blackmail the victim, or publicly post embarrassing photos for everyone to see.
- Psychological: Psychological harassment affects the victim through different acts of the harasser. It's not usually seen or understood straight away – the victim starts to understand something is happening after some time and repeated negative actions towards them. In the process, the harasser undermines the victim, lowering their self-esteem and mentally breaking the person down. For example, the harasser can take credit for the achievements of others, make impossible demands, and constantly disagree, creating unhealthy relationships.
- Verbal: Verbal harassment is usually taken as a "bad mood" or "difficult personality". However, when the accidents keep repeating, the victim should pay closer attention and understand that criticism, mean comments, or inappropriate jokes come from the verbal harasser. Verbal harassment includes shaming of the victim, teasing, and verbal attacks.
- Physical: Physical harassment comes into effect when the harasser deliberately touches the victim without their consent. There's a thin line between jokes and physical harassment, however, if the situation makes the person uncomfortable - it becomes apparent harassment that should be addressed and reported. The harasser can physically attack the victim, intimidate and threaten, destroying the property as a result.
- Sexual: Sexual harassment is a serious offense that can lead to the harasser being fired and reported to authorities. However, in most cases, no one knows about the offense as the victim doesn't want to draw attention and share an unpleasant truth. Sexual harassment includes sexual jokes and messages, inappropriate touching, and requests for sexual favors in exchange for promotion.
How to respond to harassment
Once it's clear you or the person you know face the harassment (and not a one-time lousy joke), it's crucial to approach the situation correctly.
- Try to avoid sharing the story with other co-workers to make sure your claim is not then underestimated or taken as a joke. If you complain a lot to coworkers and then they are asked to testify, it might happen they will water down your story making it not that serious.
- Start with a conversation with the harasser and share, calmly, why the behavior is inappropriate and how it makes you feel. Sometimes the harasser needs to hear the truth and understand the personal boundaries. However, in case of physical or sexual harassment, skip this step to avoid further complications.
- Report the incident to your direct manager and HR. The best is to provide the factual evidence together with your story, including screenshots, messages, or recordings. Don’t be afraid of losing your job or damaging relations – the harassment report is your workplace right and is shared fully anonymously, as you’re covered by the Whistleblower protection policy*.
* Whistleblowing policy exists to encourage workers to share illegal practices and violations, without a fear of being discussed or retaliated. The policy keeps the reporter anonymous and identifies the steps how and to whom the report should be submitted.
All companies must adhere to the workplace code of conduct where every worker has a right to safety and protection against harassment. If, after your thorough report and all the evidence provided, nothing happens, and instead you get a warning to lose your job, it's a clear sign you should change jobs. No company deserves your time if it doesn't value its employees and doesn’t provide them with a safe environment.