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Discrimination and Harassment at Work

Guest Blog: 7 Ways to Deal With Discrimination and Harassment at Your Job

From time to time I post a guest blog. Today’s is by staff writers of “online business degree”. It deals with the important topic of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Harassment is legally defined as unwelcome conduct based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Unlawful discrimination occurs when an employee is treated less favorably than another employee because of a characteristic specified under anti-discrimination legislation, including age, race, and gender identity and orientation.

Many states have passed laws that expand protection from harassment and discrimination to additional categories, including mental and physical disability, military status, and pregnancy. So what can you do if you or a fellow co-worker is experiencing harassment at your workplace? Here are seven ways to deal with harassment and discrimination at your job.

 1. Define what is taking place

Sometimes discrimination and harassment are blatantly obvious, and other times they’re much more subtle. Some people may not even be aware that their behavior at work actually constitutes harassment. In order to determine what exactly is happening, ask yourself, is the behavior in question intimidating, offensive, and interfering with you or your co-worker’s job performance? Before making a formal complaint, write down a description of the incident and see if it fits the legal definition of discrimination or harassment

2. Check yourself

When it comes to preventing harassment in the workplace, as uncomfortable as it may be, you should check your own behavior to see if you might be contributing to an uncomfortable, hostile work environment. Always be sure you treat your co-workers the way you want to be treated. Be careful with humor, especially when it comes to sharing jokes, images, or videos through office e-mail. Compliment your co-workers on their job performance, not physical attributes. If you feel you have offended someone, consider taking time out to talk with that person to better understand why they feel the way they do.

3. Ask the person to stop

In many instances, the person who is harassing you or a co-worker may be unaware their behavior is unwanted or offensive. When such an incident occurs, calmly tell the person who is doing the harassing that their behavior is offending you and ask them to stop. The direct approach will go far to prevent further harassment and discrimination.

4. Stay calm, cool, and professional

Harassment is often meant to embarrass the victim and provoke an emotional response. Staying calm, cool, and professional when such behavior is occurring, as well as when you confront the harasser or report the incident to a supervisor or human resources, will work in your favor and help to end the offending behavior quickly and effectively. 

5. Document what is happening

Documenting instances of harassment or discrimination will help you define exactly what has happened and determine the best way to go about addressing it. A written record is also very helpful if you have to take your complaint to human resources or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Be sure to record the date of each incident and the names of all persons involved, including other witnesses.

6. Follow your workplace’s grievance procedure

If your workplace has procedures in place for addressing grievances, including claims of harassment or discrimination, follow those procedures to the best of your ability. Going “above” your supervisor or taking your complaint elsewhere before human resources can address it is not only unprofessional, but may confuse the very people who are there to help you in the first place. 

7. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If after reaching out to your supervisor and human resources department and following your workplace’s grievance procedures the incident of harassment or discrimination hasn’t been addressed to your satisfaction, consider contacting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. With field offices that service every state in the nation, the EEOC has the authority to investigate and settle charges of discrimination and in some cases, file a lawsuit to protect you and the public. The EEOC also provides information and support to help prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

I have found in my teaching experience and counseling on workplace harassment that those being harassed have a hard time knowing where to turn for help. This blog provides some useful advice on that matter. Perhaps most important is to find a trusted adviser to help navigate the pitfalls of dealing with discrimination and harassment at work.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 13, 2012