How to Deal With Harassment at Work

No matter how you’re being harrassed on the job, these tips will help you figure out how to deal with harrassment at work. I wrote this for a reader who is being harrassed by her coworker.

dealing with harrassment at workTo learn more about dealing with difficult coworkers, read Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst. This book tells you what to say and how to say it when you’re facing problems at work.

Here’s what my reader asked: “What tips do you have for dealing with sexual harassment at work?” asks Tana on my Dealing With Office Politics article. “I’m being harassed constantly by one of my coworkers, and I’m sick of it. What can I do?”

That’s a difficult type of harassment to deal with, depending on who and how much of a bully the harasser is! The following career tips apply to all types of workplace harassment — including dealing with difficult coworkers — and can be used to fight workplace discrimination.

To learn more about dealing with difficult coworkers, read Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst. This book tells you what to say and how to say it when you’re facing problems at work.

And here are a few tips for coping with a coworker who is harassing you…

How to Deal With Harassment at Work

Will a promotion save you from those coworkers? Read Why Doing a Good Job Won’t Get You Ahead at Work.

1. Consider different ways to deal with workplace harassment

Before you read these tips and think, “But that won’t work because…”, stop for a moment. Open your mind to the possibility that one of these tips might work if you explored it a bit further…and any tip can lead to an effective way to create a better work environment! Achieving your goals – no matter what they are – is about breaking down obstacles and being open to different options.

2. Learn what workplace harassment is

You have the right to go to work without fear, trepidation, or reluctance! Harassment at work is about experiencing repeated, unwelcome, intimidating, threatening, or humiliating behavior. It includes verbal insults, offensive emails or phone messages, withholding of information, unjustified criticism, spreading gossip, and discrimination. Workplace harassment is usually obvious…but it’s possible to be harassed and not even realize it.

If you have a learning disability, read How to Deal With Adult Dyslexia at Work.

3. Gain insight into your interaction with difficult coworkers

Sometimes our personalities, insecurities, fears, and past experiences affect how we define and deal with harassment at work. For instance, if we didn’t learn how to stand up to a bullying older brother, we may feel afraid and insecure when it comes to difficult coworkers or harassment. To stop being harassed, you need to figure out what role you’re playing at work. It takes self-awareness, honesty, and insight – but it can help you achieve your career goals.

4. Get evidence of the harassment

Keep all records of how your coworker is treating you. Save those emails, phone messages, and post-it notes. If you’re dealing with face-to-face harassment, then keep a written record of times, dates, places, and behaviors and words. Ask a coworker to witness the incidences of harassment – get him or her to sign your written record.

5. Look into your company’s harassment policies

Many organizations have formal harassment and discrimination procedures to follow; the more you know about those policies, the better. Talk to someone in the Human Resources Department. Review the Employee Code of Conduct handbook. Your company’s policies and standards may not solve your problems at work (some office manuals are just for show – and some office managers may not even be aware of all the company’s policies), but it’s worthwhile to be aware of the formal procedures.

6. Directly confront the difficult coworker

How to Deal With Harassment at Work
How to Deal With Harassment at Work

Whether you can or should confront a coworker who is harassing you depends on your situation. Further, how you confront him or her depends on personalities, the work environment, positions held, and the nature of the harassment. You need to find the right approach for your coworker and situation, and I can’t cover every possible harassment here.

7. Express your position clearly, objectively, and calmly

No matter how you decide to deal with workplace harassment, learn the basics of negotiating conflict at work. One way to stop harassment is to be direct and assertive about how the behavior affects you – without complaining, whining, or getting emotional. And, it’s effective to give a consequence. For instance: “When you refer to me as ‘babe’, I don’t feel respected or professional. It makes me think less of you as a colleague, and less of this organization as a whole. If you do it again, I’m taking it a step further, to our boss.” Again, dealing with a coworker who is harassing you depends on so many factors – but directly and rationally approaching someone can be effective.

8. Consult an employment lawyer or organizational psychologist

If you can’t deal with the difficult coworker on your own, get professional help. Many lawyers and psychologists offer free consultations; if your situation is serious (if, for instance, you think you have grounds to sue the company or you’re experiencing several emotional distress), call someone and get support.

9. Polish your resume, and start networking

Sometimes harassment can be stopped in its tracks – especially if it hasn’t been going on long. Other times, it’s better to cut your losses and find a job that better suits your education, experience, and career goals. Maybe this harassment at work isn’t yours to stop…maybe it’s the excuse you need to find a career to match your personality traits or search for the best jobs for people with introverted personality traits. Learn who is hiring in your industry; explore the idea of going back to school, consider relocating to a new city or state. Maybe this difficult coworker is the motivation you need to embark on a whole new stage of life!

I welcome your thoughts on dealing with harassment at work below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.

“Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.” Horace Mann.


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