Know the difference: Joking or harassment?

In the workplace, women (and sometimes men) are vulnerable to harassment from employees, third parties and even their bosses. It is a sad reality that many people have to worry about what they say or do each day, just so that they can avoid awkward or potentially dangerous situations with others.

For some, the stress of facing harassment every day finally leads to quitting their jobs or looking for somewhere new to work while calling out sick often or using up vacation days. Others give in and give the harasser exactly what they want, whether it's a relationship or sexual favors. They may believe that it is the only way to keep their jobs or to continue growing with the company.

Sexual harassment is a serious offense, and you are protected against it

Sexual harassment is a serious offense for anyone, let alone a coworker or management. As an employee, it's your right to work in a safe, inclusive environment. There is no excuse for being harassed in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment fairly loosely. It can range from making sexual jokes to inappropriately touching or stalking someone in the workplace.

How do you know if a "joke" is really sexual harassment?

The primary factor you should be concerned with is if it's a joke that is welcomed or not. For instance, if you are chatting with your boss and they make a comment about your bra size, it may be awkward and inappropriate. However, a colleague you know as a friend doing the same might be funny. Normally, these comments are circumstantial, so it's up to you to decide what is or is not acceptable in your life. If you feel scared, threatened or like your workplace isn't safe, then it's likely that the so-called "jokes" have gone too far.

Sexual harassment can create a negative atmosphere on the job

The reality of sexual harassment is that it creates a negative atmosphere in a place of work. If you're victimized by someone who believes they can treat you with this type of disrespect, you should reach out to your human resources department.

If you cannot get the situation adequately addressed, then your attorney can help you put together a case against your employer. No employer should knowingly allow sexual harassment to continue in the workplace. It is their responsibility to make sure that employees are educated and do not harass or mistreat coworkers.

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