As many as 17% of women report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. However, many never do anything to stop it because they are afraid of offending their boss or losing their job. Although an employee should always report inappropriate behavior, there are steps that can be taken to curtail inappropriate flirtation by a boss early on and many protections in place for those who have no choice but to file a harassment claim.
Do everything you can to maintain a professional relationship with your boss. When discussing informal or personal matters in the office, be sure to steer clear of topics that might invite inappropriate remarks. For instance, avoid discussing personal details of your dating life, which might open the door for personal comments by your boss. Though your intentions may be entirely platonic, avoid touching your boss in any way, as it may lead him to believe that doing the same to you -- putting his hands on yours or rubbing your shoulders -- is acceptable behavior.
Discourage inappropriate behavior in a passive manner. If your boss places his hand on yours, casually move your hand away. If he makes a comment that makes you uncomfortable, don't laugh it off, as this may lead him to believe that you're receptive to his behavior. A better response is to change the subject or stare at him without expression. This will make it obvious that you don't appreciate his actions.
Keep a written record of your boss's inappropriate actions, with specific dates, times, locations and details about the offense. Hopefully you'll never have to use the record. But if you do need to file a complaint, a written record will provide proof of the harassment and support your case.
Be straight-forward with your boss. If she ignores your non-verbal cues and continues to act inappropriately, it is time to verbally express your thoughts. Choose a time when your boss is alone, so that no one else will overhear your conversation, which could lead to embarrassment for your boss. Tell her that you enjoy your job, but that certain actions are making you uncomfortable. Using "I" statements, such as "I feel uncomfortable discussing relationships with you" will help to make your words sound less accusatory. Try to be kind, but be very clear about your wishes.
File a complaint if your boss continues to act in a way that makes you feel harassed. While no one likes to file a complaint, if you have given your boss every other opportunity to curtail his actions, filing a complaint is the right thing to do. If he has persisted with the harassment in your situation, there is a good chance that he has done the same to others in the past, or is presently harassing others in your office. When you file your complaint, bring the record of harassment to your human resources representative and explain the situations and the steps that you have taken to stop it.
- Many employees are reluctant to file a sexual harassment complaint because they fear that they will lose their job. Keep in mind that there are protections in place to prevent this. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's statement on sexual harassment forbids the firing of any employee for refusal to return or accept sexual advances or harassment.