Right To Be
Responding to Workplace Harassment: Understanding Your Options
Overview

There is no perfect or easy way to respond to harassment. And when workplace dynamics enter the mix, it can often feel all the more complicated, frustrating, and even traumatic. If you’re experiencing workplace harassment, this resource is designed to help you explore your options and select the path to respond that’s best for you. Below are the leading options we see people taking, along with some of their main pros and cons. 

Report the incident to HR or your manager.

Report the incident to federal, state, or city agencies.

Contact the EEOC to report harassment to the federal government, and contact state agencies to report it locally.

When considering this option, it helps to know that legal definitions of harassment unfortunately don’t encompass all forms of harassment (yet). Legal professionals will look specifically for evidence of a “hostile work environment” – which in the eyes of the law is constituted by “severe and pervasive” harassment – or “quid pro quo” harassment. What does this mean, exactly? Well, in most US states, this law implies that an employer can, for instance, nonconsensually kiss their employees, and it wouldn’t qualify as “harassment” because it isn’t considered “severe and pervasive.” This is changing, but slowly.

Quit your job.

Leaving a job where you don’t feel safe is as valid an option as the others listed here. When considering this option, it may be helpful to affirm for yourself that whether you quit or not, it shouldn’t be your responsibility to change in the first place. The person who harmed you should have to change their behavior.

Try to pretend it’s not happening, put your head down, and focus on your job.

Have a conversation with the person who disrespected, harassed, or discriminated against you.

We understand this is not easy. We’ve got your back.

We encourage you to evaluate thoroughly the potential impact of each option in your specific situation. We know this is hard and unfair. There is no “perfect” or “right” response to harassment; you never asked for this. Selecting the option that works for you is not as challenging as actually implementing it.

In over 15 years of experience, we’ve learned that the aftermath of harassment in the workplace can be worse than the initial incident itself. This is especially true in entry-level or low-wage jobs.

To talk with someone about your options, check out our partners at Empower Work. They offer free, confidential support with workplace issues from trained peer counselors. You can reach them by texting RightToBe to 510-674-1414.

To learn more about workplace harassment, take a look at our guide to defining workplace harassment in the US.  

OUR UPCOMING TRAININGS

Right To Be

Upcoming training

How to Respond to Harassment for People Experiencing Anti-Asian/American Harassment

June 2, 2022

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST

Right To Be

Upcoming training

How to Respond to Harassment for People Experiencing Anti-Asian/American Harassment

June 2, 2022

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST

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YOU ARE POWERFUL

Remember, everyone can do something. At this time in our history, it is even more important that we show up for one another as active bystanders. Research shows that even a knowing glance can significantly reduce trauma for the person who is targeted. One of the most important things we can do is to let the person who is targeted know, in some way, however big or small, that they are not alone.

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