By Deryn Sumner, December 13, 2017
First, a joke. My husband and I were walking down the street recently when he turned to me and asked, if Santa Claus knows if you’ve been bad or good, how did he not pick up on the fact that Rudolph was being bullied by the other reindeer in the workplace? I did not have a good answer for him. But I can share with you the EEOC’s guidance on what you should do if you believe you are being subjected to harassment in the workplace.
This article is on the front page of the EEOC’s website, which is unsurprising given that every news cycle brings reports of additional celebrities, politicians, directors and CEOs being accused of harassment. I for one am glad that these issues are being brought to the forefront and commend the brave women and men who are risking their careers and personal reputations to speak out against workplace harassment.
But back to the EEOC’s tips on how to respond to harassment in the workplace. The first tip is to tell the person who is harassing you to stop, so long as you feel comfortable doing so. Anyone who is familiar with what it takes to establish an actionable claim of harassment knows why this tip is so important. In order to establish an actionable claim of harassment, the complainant must demonstrate that the conduct was unwelcome. Going along with the inappropriate conduct, even if there is an imbalance of power or intimidation, opens the door to a defense that the interactions were consensual and therefore not unlawful.
The EEOC article next tells employees to check and see if the employer has an anti-harassment policy. As employees of the federal government, the answer is yes, and that policy is likely distributed on at least an annual basis. The policy should lay out how an employee can report harassment, but as the EEOC’s article mentions, you can and should speak to a supervisor (and it doesn’t have to be your own supervisor) about the conduct. As we all know, and as the EEOC’s article mentions, reporting harassment (either something you’ve been subjected to, or by opposing harassment you have witnessed) constitutes protected activity for which you are protected from retaliation.
If the Agency does not take appropriate steps to end the harassment, then, the article notes, private sector employees have the option to file a private sector charge and federal employees can proceed with the complaints process. The article is available on the EEOC’s website here: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/harassed_at_work.cfm