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Guest Opinion: What to do if you are sexually harassed at work | News, Sports, Jobs


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

Utahns are known for their friendliness. So I’ve been surprised over the years at how many women have asked what they should do in response to sexual harassment in the workplace. To help you, our team at the Utah Women & Leadership Project recently created a document called “What to do if you experience sexual harassment 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 depends on some kind of sexual favor. And second, what’s called “harassment in a hostile work environment”, which is unwanted behavior that unreasonably interferes with your work or creates an intimidating work environment (for example, unwanted touching, texts or e -suggestive emails, sharing of sexually explicit images).

What can you do if you are a victim of 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 all relevant emails, texts, photos or social posts. (3) Telling friends, family members or trusted colleagues what happened and documenting 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 for evidence if your performance is challenged. (5) Store all documentation outside of your office or on an offsite computer and ensure that it is backed up in a secure location.

Second, evaluate. Carefully consider the following: What outcome do you want to achieve? What is the company policy on sexual harassment in your workplace? Did you sign a non-disclosure agreement when you were hired? Who can you trust to share your experience?

Third, take action. (1) Tell the harasser to stop. Because Utah is a single-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 harassment in the event of retaliation. (3) Connect with colleagues who may also be victims of harassment. Offer support and consider joining; multiple charges are more difficult to dismiss. (4) Consult a lawyer. Even if you don’t want to take legal action, it may be worth talking to an employment law specialist to review your options. Consultations are confidential and many organizations offer financial assistance. 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 may be helpful include Better Brave (www.betterbrave.org), RAINN (www.rainn.org) and the Sexual Harassment portion of the UWLP Toolkits available at www.utwomen.org (Resources>Toolkits) .

There is nothing “nice” about sexual harassment. These tips should help both those who experience it and those who see the 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 Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership at the Jon M Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.



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