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Guest opinion: What to do if you’re being sexually harassed in the workplace

By Susan Madsen - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 19, 2022

Courtesy photo

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

Utahns are known for their niceness. So, I’ve been surprised through the years at how many women have reached out asking what they should do in response to being sexually harassed while on the job. To help, our team at the Utah Women & Leadership Project has recently created a handout titled “What to Do If You’re Being Sexually Harassed in the Workplace.” I want to share some of the tips provided in this resource.

Under federal law, there are two types of sexual harassment that are illegal. First, quid pro quo harassment, which refers to a beneficial work outcome that is contingent on some sort of sexual favor. And second, what is called “hostile work environment harassment,” which is unwanted behavior that unreasonably interferes with your work or creates an intimidating working environment (e.g., unwanted touching, suggestive texts or emails, sharing sexually explicit images).

What can you do if you experiencing sexual harassment? Here are three steps to consider:

First, document. (1) Document the details of the harassment (date, time, location, what was said and any witnesses to the behavior). (2) Print copies or take screenshots of any relevant emails, texts, photos or social posts. (3) Tell trusted friends, family members or co-workers what happened and document the conversations; they can provide support and, if necessary, corroborating statements. (4) Keep records related to your productivity and job performance and, if possible, review your performance report or personnel file so you have evidence should your performance be disputed. (5) Store all documentation outside your office or on an offsite computer and make sure it’s backed up in a safe place.

Second, assess. Carefully consider the following: What outcome would you like to achieve? What is the company policy on sexual harassment in your workplace? Did you sign a nondisclosure agreement when you were hired? Who can you trust to share your experience with?

Third, act. (1) Tell the harasser to stop. Since Utah is a one-party consent state in terms of recording law, conversations you are a part of can be legally recorded and shared. (2) Continue to document all events even if you decide not to report the harassment in case of retaliation. (3) Connect with colleagues who may be experiencing harassment as well. Offer support and consider uniting; multiple accusations are harder to dismiss. (4) Consult a lawyer. Even if you don’t want to file a lawsuit, it may be useful to talk to an employment law specialist to review your options. Consultations are confidential and many organizations offer financial aid. To find a lawyer, contact the National Employment Lawyer’s Association, Legal Aid at Work or the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

Some additional resources that could be helpful include Better Brave (www.betterbrave.org), RAINN (www.rainn.org) and the sexual harassment portion of the UWLP Toolkits found at www.utwomen.org (Resources>Toolkits).

There is nothing “nice” about sexual harassment. These tips should help both those who are experiencing it and those who see signs of harassment and want to do the right thing. Let’s all help ensure Utah workplaces provide environments where everyone can thrive.

Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

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