Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment is Illegal: Know Your Rights

January 31st, 2012 | Linda Meric

Image: Linda MericColorado newspapers have covered extensively the recent trial, conviction and sentencing of former 7th Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra on extortion and unlawful sexual contact charges. The conviction against Serra stemmed from his illegal maltreatment of three female employees in his Montrose and Delta, Colorado western slope offices – sexually harassing and assaulting them, threatening their jobs, and forcing them to provide sexual favors.

This case, of a public official and lawyer breaking the law, reminds us that sexual harassment continues to occur in all types of occupations and workplaces. There are steps everyone can and must take to stop and prevent it.

If you experience sexual harassment on the job, remember that you’re not alone. Trust your instincts, and don’t blame yourself. Be assertive and say no clearly. Document every incident in detail. Look for witnesses and other evidence from co-workers or former employees. Research your employer’s and your union’s channels for reporting sexual harassment, and use them. As Serra’s staff found out, addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is difficult, so seek emotional support. If all else fails, take legal action.

If you are not the one being harassed, support your co-worker by validating that harassment is wrong, affirming her feelings, and listening without judgment. Be sure that your behavior isn’t part of the problem. Challenge the harasser’s inappropriate behavior. Work with others toward a harassment-free work environment, whether that harassment is sexual in nature or based on someone’s race, sexual orientation or other characteristics.

If you’re a manager, you have special responsibilities. You also have special opportunities to be part of the solution. Be a role model. Be a good listener. Be objective and consistent. Be informed, and be willing to ask for help when you need it. Be vigilant, and don’t wait for a crisis.

Employers can develop, update and uniformly implement policies to stop and prevent sexual harassment. Emphasize prevention through education and training. Clearly define procedures, give several options for reporting, and be sure that investigations are prompt and fair. Administer appropriate discipline, regardless of the position of the harasser.

To learn more about what you can do at work and what your legal rights are concerning sexual harassment, call the 9to5 Job Survival Helpline at 1-800-522-0925 or visit us online at www.9to5.org.

About the Author: Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a multi-racial membership organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-wage and low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy on workplace and safety net issues. Linda helped found 9to5 Colorado in 1996 and served as the chapter’s Director until the Fall of 2004 when she became 9to5’s national Executive Director. Under Linda’s leadership, 9to5 has won important victories in the arenas of work-family, anti-discrimination, wages, good jobs, welfare, unemployment and child care.

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