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What can you do about sexual harassment at work?

Sexual harassment is never okay. It is not something you "just have to deal with" to get ahead in your career. It is not an acceptable "price of admission" to a traditionally male profession.

Despite this, many women are hesitant to take action when harassment occurs. Often, this is because they don't know what they should do.

If you are in this situation, do not be afraid. The law is on your side. Here's what you need to know.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can take many forms. The most obvious form is demanding sexual favors in exchange for work perks. But most sexual harassment is more subtle: things like making unwanted advances, telling offensive or derogatory jokes, making sexual comments about a person's body or behaviors, or displaying pornography or suggestive images.

What can you do if you're being harassed?

Most people don't know what to do when they encounter sexual harassment at work. Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Speak up: In order to prove harassment, you have to show the behavior is unwanted. Tell the harasser to stop. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to the person directly, ask your supervisor or go to human resources.
  • Report it right away: If the person doesn't stop after you've asked them to, report the conduct to your supervisor or to human resources. Your employer has a duty to make the harassment stop.
  • Keep a record: It can be hard to remember every instance of harassment, so write them down somewhere safe. If your employer has started treating you poorly after reporting the harassment, make note of that, too. Keep hard copies of any relevant emails, performance review or similar documents.
  • Get help dealing with the stress: Dealing with sexual harassment can take a serious toll on your mental health. Consider meeting with a therapist who can help you process things and make a plan for coping with the stress.

When should you talk to a lawyer?

If you have reported the harassment, but your employer is not taking sufficient steps to make it stop, it is a good time to meet with an attorney. Similarly, talk to a lawyer if you have been fired, demoted or otherwise retaliated against for reporting the harassment.

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