How to Defend Against Workplace Harassment

by Laurie Brenner

In an ideal work environment, everyone gets along. But unfortunately, some people just don't know how to tolerate or accept others. Instead, they revert to offensive jokes or belittling comments at another person's expense. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that oversees workplace discrimination and harassment, reports that workplace harassment is an ongoing problem, in spite of the laws against it. When you need to defend yourself against workplace harassment, you need tot take a few specific steps to get it to stop.

Harassment at Work

Simple acts of teasing, joking around or one-time events don't fit the EEOC's definition of harassment. But ongoing, pervasive, unwelcome comments, jokes or other abuse from an employer, supervisor or co-worker about your sex, age, religion, color, disability or country of origin all qualify as harassment at work. Even though your employer has a responsibility to provide a hostility-free work environment, you have a responsibility to stand up for yourself or others who continually get abused.

Keep Accurate Records

The steps to defending yourself against workplace harassment begins with keeping an accurate record of everything that transpired. Keep a log that lists specific dates and times, people who witnessed the harassment and the names of all people who participated. Because the definition of harassment isn't related to isolated or one-time events, your records need to reflect multiple events. Describe the situation, where the harassment took place and include examples of comments or abuse. The more accurate and detailed the record showing this ongoing abuse, the stronger your case.


Talk to witnesses and ask them if they would be willing to contribute comments or examples of harassment they witnessed. If you can get them to write it down, it's even better, but including their comments or views on the topic in your documentation is usually enough. While you are documenting these events privately, your goal is to not sink to the levels that these offensive co-workers do. Rise above the fray, and try not to egg them on.

Follow Company Procedures

Because federal and state laws make employers with 15 or more employees responsible for maintaining a harassment-free workplace, it's likely that your company has a policy about it. Civil rights laws have been around since the early 1960s, so most employers already understand the risks and liabilities associated with harassment. Smart employers also know that work environments that promote tolerance and acceptance make happier employees, which helps to increase productivity. Your employee handbook will detail the steps you can take to defend yourself against harassment.

Filing Charges

If your employer doesn't have a policy, or makes no effort to correct the problem, you still have options. You can contact the EEOC by mail or phone, or your state's labor board if your state has anti-discrimination laws, to report a charge of discrimination at your work. Include a statement as to why you feel you were discriminated against in your letter or on the phone. If you're not sure whether the events you experienced qualify as harassment under federal or state laws, use the EEOC's assessment tool at its website to help you understand it better.

About the Author

As a native Californian, artist, businessperson, contractor, journalist and published author, Laurie Reeves began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. In 2003, she and her husband moved into the home she designed, they built and decorated. Reeves graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.

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