Workplace Harassment Protective Measures

Introduction

Workplace harassment, especially if it is coming from your boss, can lead to a very stressful and intolerable work environment.  This article will provide you with the very first steps that you ought to consider taking as your response to this unwanted stressor in your life.
Understand Your Rights

Most people have heard of the phrases “harassment” or “discrimination” or “retaliation” but do not fully understand the definition of these terms.  The quickest way to learn about these legal terms is to locate a copy of your employer’s policies and procedures.  Often these policies are in the form of a booklet or binder and are called an “employee handbook.”  It is very important that you read this booklet carefully.  Not only will it contain definitions of harassment and discrimination, it will also usually explain the complaint procedure that you must follow in order to inform your employer of the harassment that you are unwillingly being subjected to.  Failing to follow the procedures outlined in the handbook may result in your employer taking ineffective or no action at all in dealing with the harassment situation.

Write Everything Down

It is important that you document every incident of harassment.  I tell my clients to pretend that they are reporters writing a story.  A good article will cover the who, the what, the when, the where, the why and the how.  Start at the beginning of the harassement and write, in chronological order, each incident which you consider to be an act of harassment.  Make sure that you include all of the details.  It is better to write more than to write less.  Try to write down each incident as closely as possible to when it happened.  If you can recall specific words or sentences that the harasser or witnesses said, then put those words or sentences in quotations.  Be sure to include the full names of everyone who witnessed the act of harassment and any comments that they may have shared with you.
Human Resources: Friend Or Foe?

Many Human Resources department employees are told that the primary directive of the department is to protect the interests of the company and to limit liability against the company.  While there are some HR employees that I have seen who act with genuine concern and interest in protecting the victim and conducting an unbiased investigation against the harasser, there are other individuals who have acted less honestly.  For example, where the victim is someone with little power in the company and the harasser is a rainmaker, the HR employee might be biased and unfair in his or her investigation of the victim’s complaint.

However, there are still methods that can be used by the victim to protect him or herself.  First, present all complaints in writing and keep a copy for yourself.  This way, you can document every communication that you have with HR and can rebut any future argument by your employer that you did not make a particular claim or failed to follow a particular procedure.  Second, respond to any oral or written communication from HR with a written confirmation letter/email.  You can start the letter by stating: “This is to confirm the so and so conversation that we had yesterday wherein you told me…..”  Make sure to confirm every single important aspect of what the HR person told you.  By doing this, the HR employee cannot later change his or her story and deny what was said.  Third, if the HR representative tells you that they talked to several co-employees that you named as witnesses in your harassment complaint, make sure that you speak to each of the co-employees and find out what they were asked.  By learning what questions your witnesses were asked, you will find out how thorough the HR investigator was.  You may also find out whether or not the HR representative is biased against your story.
Consulting With An Employment Law Attorney

f you believe yourself to be a victim of workplace harassment, then the quickest way to protect yourself and protect your employment may be by consulting with an experienced employment law attorney.  A good attorney can easily assess the situation and determine whether or not the conduct of the harasser is in violation of State or Federal law.  The attorney can then present you with options to obtain immediate relief from the harassment.  The sooner you reach out to a competent legal expert, the sooner you will be able to escape from the terrible stress and anxiety that comes with harassment.