Personal Finance

In wake of Harvey Weinstein indictment, here's how to handle workplace harassment

Key Points
  • Former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was indicted Wednesday on charges of rape and criminal sex act.
  • While the allegations against him play out very publicly, most victims of harassment on the job say they do not report it.
Photo by Peter Dazeley via Getty Images

Even as allegations of sexual misconduct against former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein continue to play out, most instances of workplace harassment apparently are never even reported.

While just 12 percent of workers say they've experienced sexual harassment on the job, most of them (72 percent) did not tell their employer about it, according to a CareerBuilder survey released earlier this year. More than half did not confront the perpetrator.

"There's a stigma of shame, denial and fear of consequences that surrounds these victims, making it often difficult for them to come forward," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

Harvey Weinstein charged with rape and sexual abuse

On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Weinstein on charges of rape in the first and third degrees and criminal sexual act in the first degree. The charges arise from alleged incidents involving two separate women, according to a statement by the New York Police Department when Weinstein was initially arrested last week.

The indictment comes after dozens of women came forward last year with accusations against him of inappropriate sexual behavior. The public allegations helped spur the #MeToo movement, emboldening other victims to disclose abuse by men in power.

Weinstein has previously denied that any of the encounters in question were nonconsensual and his attorneys have said he will plead not guilty.

Of course, sexual harassment can be a far cry from what Weinstein is charged with. Some perpetrators harass verbally with suggestive or sexual comments, while other incidents can involve inappropriate advances of a physical nature.

While many victims of workplace sexual harassment keep it to themselves, three-quarters of those who do report incidents say the issue was resolved, according to the CareerBuilder survey.

"Unfortunately, history has shown that there were reasons to be concerned," Haefner said. "But we have seen a shift ... Anyone who feels harassed should come forward."

Workers who experience sexual harassment should be able to feel comfortable going to their companies to resolve the situation, she said.

"Companies need to do a better job making sure all employees understand that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace and reports will be taken seriously," Haefner said.

Who has felt sexually harassed in the workplace

Age Yes
18-3417 percent
35-4411 percent
45-5410 percent
55 and older9 percent

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you should start by telling the person who is doing the harassment to stop — if you feel comfortable doing so. If you feel uneasy making the request, or if the behavior continues despite your efforts, there are some key steps you can take.

The law

According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you have the legal right to be protected from discrimination in the workplace if your company has 15 or more employees. State laws or employer policies might also offer additional protections.

Workplace policies

Check to see if your company has an anti-harassment policy. It may be on the employer's web site or in its employee handbook, or you can get it from human resources.

If there is a policy in place, follow the steps outlined, which should include options for reporting the incident and filing a complaint.

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While the specifics of company policies will differ, federal guidelines say the employer should promptly conduct an impartial investigation, along with ensuring that the harassment stops in the meantime.

If the investigation determines harassment did occur, EEOC guidelines say disciplinary measures should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense.

Document the harassment

Be sure to document the incident in detail, Haefner said.

"Make sure you list all the names of people who may have witnessed the incident," Haefner said.

Then, she said, give your report to a supervisor or manager, or to your human resources department.

Make sure you list all the names of people who may have witnessed the incident.
Rosemary Haefner
chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder

If your company has no procedure in place for filing a sexual-harassment complaint, you should go to your immediate supervisor. And if that person is the perpetrator?

"Make your complaint to your supervisor's immediate supervisor," Haefner said.

If you don't feel comfortable doing that, consider talking to another manager or supervisor. You should explain what has happened and ask for that person's help in putting a stop to the behavior.

Other options

You have the option of filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within either 180 or 300 days of the incident, depending on where you work. (Federal employees and job applicants have a different process and time limits.)

While you do not need a lawyer to file a complaint with the federal agency, some victims turn to an employment attorney for help in dealing with the EEOC.