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How to Prove Harrassment in the Workplace | Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, LLP

How to Prove Harassment in the Workplace

Let’s be honest: building and sustaining a career you can be proud of isn’t that easy.

What’s worse is when we get stuck with a very unpleasant coworker or supervisor each day. If that person is overtly making us uncomfortable for many hours every day, week after week, then it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Luckily, there are some strategic steps and actions you can take to resolve these situations sooner – and easier – than you may think. Stop sexual harassment and end a hostile work environment by following these steps below.

Signs Of Harassment To Look Out For

In a perfect world, we should be able to show up to work each day, do our jobs with smiles on our faces, and go home at the end of the day feeling energized and accomplished.

However, we know we don’t live in a perfect world.

There are pressures, anxieties, and challenges we face as adults at work every day. So, being a witness of – or being a victim of – workplace sexual harassment could easily put us over the edge. This is especially true if you’re the one getting suggestive comments about your appearance, or you are being touched inappropriately, or even if you’re receiving written remarks that just make you uncomfortable.

Obviously, the same thing goes when it comes to being treated unfairly or being discriminated against because of your nationality, age, gender, disability, and so on in your work environment.

However, it can get even more tricky when workplace bullying and harassment goes beyond the obvious…

For example, there are cases when destructive lies or gossip are being spread around about you in the office. Or times when your boss or co-worker is overtly stealing credit for the work you’ve done… or they are even going so far as to sabotage you.

Other times, you are feeling singled out by your boss, co-workers, or both, by having your desk awkwardly moved around or by not being invited to meetings. What may be even more embarrassing is if you are constantly getting yelled at, insulted, or humiliated in front of others in the workplace. These situations will without a doubt create a hostile environment for both you and everyone around you.

If this is happening to you, the first thing to remember is that these kinds of people that partake in workplace bullying and harassment are usually trying to seek a reaction out of you… so it’s important to remain calm and not give them the reaction they are seeking.

Of course, we all know that for victims of workplace harassment, staying calm is much easier said than done. Victims of workplace bullying are being impacted negatively – whether they notice it or not – and on a regular basis. This will inevitably lead to all kinds of problems if not addressed.

Are You A Victim Of Harassment in the Workplace?

For victims of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it’s unlikely that they will lash out or have an emotional outburst in front of their coworkers. Instead, they usually figure it’s in their best interest to do their job, hold it in, and “put with it.”

Sadly, we see this happen way too much.

What usually ends up happening in these cases is the victim will feel higher levels of stress, fatigue, tension, or physical discomfort. More often than not, this leads to psychological and emotional stress as well.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The victim’s behavior often changes too. Work performance may suffer or become sloppy. Or they could begin to close themselves off, hesitate to attend meetings, communicate differently, or avoid interaction altogether.

Lastly, workplace tension can also develop. The ongoing harassment may lead to lower morale amongst everyone in the workplace, which leads to higher turnover.

What To Do About It

Obviously, we shouldn’t react to a harassment scenario immediately if we’re going to do it from a place of pure emotion or overwhelm.

What we should do is assess our options, and take steps to stop the mistreatment so we can improve our work situation… and our overall well-being.

Below are some practical steps you can (and probably should) take if you are experiencing harassment or workplace discrimination, so you can put an end to it once and for all.

Talk To The Bully

This first option may sound like the most uncomfortable one. After all, you’re probably feeling cornered or even helpless by your current situation. As true as that may be, confronting the person who is mistreating you is a great practical step to take.

The reason this option works – from a practical perspective – is because it’s a straightforward way to try to get the behavior to stop. If you give “notice” to the offender in this way and he (or she) continues the harassment, then it will also help you build a case if you decide that you later want to file a lawsuit.

By the way: if the situation still doesn’t improve, then make sure to put your feelings, thoughts, and concerns into writing. This can help you organize your thoughts and feelings, maintain your mental health, and it will also help your argument later if a lawsuit ensues.

Report The Misconduct

Another thing you can do is report the unwanted behavior to your supervisors or Human Resources department. It’s usually in the company’s best interest to support you and help create a resolution for you.

There are some drawbacks to this approach though. So before you decide to go down this route, here is a word of warning:

A downside of reporting the workplace bully is that it can turn into an “abusive relationship” kind of situation. What this means is that there may be an opportunity cost for doing this, such as feeling an increase of fear of retaliation from the offender, or fears of getting fired, or even worries about your own reputation in the work place.

Find An Impartial Ally

Many larger companies around today have someone who is in charge of investigating – and hopefully resolving – these matters. Unlike HR reps, this person should be able to find a more “impartial” way to come to a resolution, rather than an approach which may make you overly uncomfortable or increasingly fearful.

Get Medical Attention

If your employer has Employee Assistance Programs, it’s a good idea to take advantage of this right away. If they don’t have these programs readily available to you, it still shouldn’t be a reason for you to overlook medical attention.

Aside from helping you cope with the emotional or psychological suffering that the harassment is causing you, getting medical help can also prove to be very fruitful for you in other ways. Practically speaking, a medical specialist will put together records which show emotional or psychological suffering was caused, which will only work toward your own benefit if you choose take it to court.

A Note About Filing Harassment Lawsuits

While we won’t go into details about filing harassment lawsuits claims here, we do want to make an important note when it comes to taking legal action against the offender.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, not all workplace harassment is determined as illegal. This means that no matter how unfair or troubling it may be to you, legal action may not be followed through even though you decide to file a legal sexual harassment claim.

For clarification, let’s quote the EEOC directly: “When investigating allegations of harassment, the EEOC looks at the entire record: including the nature of the conduct, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination of whether harassment is severe or pervasive enough to be illegal is made on a case-by-case basis.”

While the above may sound unfortunate, the reality we face is that this is the law. That’s why it’s important to consider taking the above steps and actions first – and create records and documents – to strengthen your case if you decide to pursue legal action.

Final Word

There are many different types of workplace harassment, as we have mentioned. Everything from being a victim of inappropriate touching, constant bullying, demeaning written comments, overt insults, being sabotaged, and the list goes on.

With that said, each case of workplace harassment is typically unique.

That’s why we highly recommend taking some of the steps we outlined here, so you can work to resolve the situation with minimal stress or impact on your well-being.

Something else to remember is that it’s entirely possible for a workplace harassment case to reach a level of illegal discrimination. However, the EEOC does do these investigations on a case-by-case basis, so that’s also why it’s important to keep records and documentation if the harassment persists.

If you’re currently experiencing harassment in your place of work, then please begin to take steps outlined above as soon as possible.

There’s really no magic bullet fix which promises to end the hostile workplace discrimination on the first attempt – although it’s possible. Remember that it will also take a bit of courage and willingness to step out of your comfort zone, so it’s important to keep in mind that this is for your own benefit – both in the short term, and long term.                                                                          

If you would like to contact us for an initial consultation or to discuss your employment litigation or a sexual harassment case as well as the next steps, then please feel free to reach out to Bremer Whyte Brown O’Meara today.