How to Handle Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

May 22, 2017
By Peter Friedmann

Victims of sexual harassment should keep at least eight things in mind when making the decision to hold the harasser accountable:


  • Sexual harassment takes many forms, ranging from repeated unwelcome comments on appearance to unwelcome requests for dates and demands for sex in return for a job or promotion.
  • Nonconsensual touching and assault at work are crimes as well as sexual harassment.
  • Men and women can be targeted for sexual harassment.
  • The harasser can be the same sex as the victim.
  • Perpetrators of sexual harassment can be co-workers, managers, supervisors, executives, clients, and customers.
  • You have a right to report sexual harassment and should report it immediately.
  • Failing to investigate and attempt to end sexual harassment can subject an employer to an employment discrimination lawsuit.
  • Taking any adverse employment action against a victim who reports sexual harassment is illegal and can make the employer subject to a retaliation lawsuit. Adverse action includes termination shortly after the report is made, including many other examples.


Knowing your rights, and that you are not alone as either a victim or a person fighting for justice, can give you courage to speak up and put a stop to a terrible situation. Consulting with an experienced Columbus, Ohio, sexual harassment attorney before taking the first step outlined below can also help. Understanding what constitutes evidence of sexual harassment, how to collect and present that evidence properly, and persisting with a valid claim in the face of negative responses and potential retaliation are all things a knowledgeable and committed Columbus sexual harassment attorney can help with.


Step 1. Consult Your Employee Handbook on Sexual Harassment


Asking a harasser to stop may not work but you can and should indicate the harassment and attention is not welcome. However we understand these situations are sensitive and know that confronting the person can backfire, adding a revenge motive to what was already an expression of lack of respect and disregard for personal security. Learn who your organization has designated to intervene in cases of sexual harassment and what it considers an actionable complaint. It may be a Human Resources Department or it could be your immediate manager or supervisor.  If the harasser is a supervisor or manager, contact someone who is the harasser’s superior.  Additionally, familiarize yourself with the process your organization follows for investigating and resolving cases of sexual harassment.

Step 2. Document the Harassment as Fully as Possible


Save email messages, texts, and social media posts. If an assault occurs, get a medical exam or make a police report immediately. Ohio is a one-party consent state as far as recording conversations that you are involved in.  If you are actually a party to a conversation, you can record it without the harasser’s knowledge.  You cannot, however, record a conversation you are not actually involved in without the knowledge of the participants.  In other words, you cannot plant a recording device in an office to record a conversation that you are not involved in.


Step 3. Report Sexual Harassment to a Supervisor or HR Representative You Trust


If the employee handbook instructs you to report harassment to the person doing the harassing, go to that individual’s supervisor or to a manager in the human resources department instead. This is essential to making sure claims get taken seriously. Be prepared to tell you story in full and know that you can have a sexual harassment lawyer accompany you when you file an official complaint with your employer.


Step 4. Watch Out for Retaliation


Do not expect to lose your job, get demoted, miss out on a bonus or promotion, or be forced to accept a reassignment if you report sexual harassment. Do know, however, that these things can happen, as can hearing insults and threats. If any of these things do follow the report of sexual harassment, a case for illegal employment retaliation can be made.


Step 5. Follow Up on Your Report and Make Sure Appropriate Actions Are Being Taken


Federal and state laws—as well as the employee handbook, if written correctly—require the organization and its representatives to act quickly and decisively when receiving reports of sexual harassment. An investigation should start almost immediately, and the harasser should face discipline commensurate with the offense. When nothing happens, or when the harasser receives a relatively light penalty for truly harmful behavior, it is time to contact an attorney.


Step 6. File an EEOC Complaint if Your Employer Does Not Follow Through


Complaints to the nearest federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office can be made in writing or in person. A Columbus sexual harassment attorney can assist with preparing the letter or go with you to meet with an EEOC investigator. Taking this option can seem like a big step, but it must also be taken quickly.


Learn more about how to respond to sexual harassment by contacting an attorney at The Friedmann Firm. We offer confidential, free, no-obligation consultations on all aspects of employment discrimination. You can schedule an appointment by calling 614.610.9755 or completing this online contact form.