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Why do people often fear reporting sexual harassment?

There have been federal rules against sexual harassment in place for decades, as the idea of such protections rose to prominence in popular culture years ago. Most employers now claim to offer harassment-free workplaces and to have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. In fact, many larger employers utilize special training practices to educate workers about sexual harassment.

Yet, despite many companies having anti-harassment policies and claiming to protect workers from abusive work environments, the average employee who experiences some kind of harassment on the job might feel uncomfortable speaking up about their circumstances. Why do workers fear making use of their right to report sexual harassment on the job?

They worry about retaliation

Just because certain types of conduct violate federal law does not automatically mean a company will punish a high-performing worker for violating those rules. Many businesses will turn a blind eye to what those in the upper echelons of the company do so long as they continue making a lot of money for the organization.

Particularly if someone needs to bring a sexual harassment claim against us a manager, executive or other top contributor to the company, the person making the complaint will likely fear that the company will side with the other party and possibly punish them for speaking up. There are federal rules against retaliation or penalizing workers for reporting harassment, but such rules only prevent the most overt abuses.

Many people have heard stories of someone who reported misconduct and then found themselves dealing with bad performance reviews, repeatedly denied promotions or facing termination after a series of seemingly minor write-ups. Many workers fear losing their jobs and will therefore endure misconduct in the hopes of protecting their position at a company.

Documentation is crucial for harassment and retaliation claims

Whether a worker wants to take action against a company that has not properly responded to prior reports of sexual harassment or an organization that has unfairly punished the person experiencing sexual harassment for reporting the issue, the more personal documentation they have of what they have experienced, the better their chances of prevailing in the matter.

Workers will generally need documentation related to the harassment they experienced and also records of their communication with the company in an attempt to resolve the situation. Employees who can connect the timing of punitive actions with a sexual harassment report may have an easier time demonstrating what they experienced was retaliation. And ultimately, fighting back against harassment and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment are both important steps for those who want to promote a healthier work environment.