Workplace sexual harassment remains a serious issue among California’s employers. It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do for a living; no workplace is immune. At one time or another, while on the clock, you are bound to witness sexual harassment or experience it yourself. What actions should you take if you see a co-worker subjected to sexual harassment?
It’s essential to note that as a witness to workplace sexual harassment, you can play a vital role in supporting the individual experiencing the harassment. Depending on the situation, you should consider an immediate intervention to support someone who is being harassed. The following five D’s are helpful to remember.
If directly addressing the harassment is safe and can be effective, it’s okay to confront the harasser and call them out on their behavior right then. Tell them you find their behavior inappropriate, intimidating, or hostile, and request that they stop whatever they are doing. Sometimes taking this approach can escalate the situation. It’s crucial to consider whether you and the person experiencing the harassment are safe and if you think the person being harassed wants someone to speak up on their behalf. If you think they might not appreciate you saying anything, consider one of the other steps instead.
You can stop the incident by simply interrupting it. Instead of focusing on the aggressor or action, distraction is a subtler intervention that allows you to engage the person subject to the harassment through a distraction. For instance, try asking a question, initiating an unrelated conversation, physically interrupting the incident, or making up a reason to call the person facing harassment out of that space.
Maybe someone really needs to step in and be direct with their harasser, but you, for whatever reason, aren’t an ideal candidate. In that case, find an appropriate third party who can come and intervene. Good candidates might include:
- A supervisor
- Human resources officer
- Security officer
- Another colleague
Perhaps you are unable to or choose not to intervene at that moment. It’s imperative to note that you can still support the person who was harassed by following up with them later. Offering acknowledgment and empathy can go a long way. You can find out if they need additional support, resources, or documentation of the incident. In addition, or alternatively, you can also confront the harasser at a later time or date. Make it clear to them that you found their behavior inappropriate.
Depending on the situation, including if other interventions are more urgent, the most helpful action you can take might be to document what you are witnessing. If you can, record the incident or write down details. Then follow up with the individual experiencing the harassment and ask them what they want you to do with the documentation. It’s best not to share it without their consent. However, they may want the documentation to file a report or show their supervisor.
If you have questions about sexual harassment in the workplace or have been subjected to such treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced California employment lawyer for help.