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Here’s what to do if you’re sexually harassed at work

Dec 11, 2017

Several of the women who've accused President Trump of sexual assault and harassment held a news conference today.

What can women do when sexually harassed at work?
Credit Timothy L. Hale / U.S. Army

It was the first time the women appeared together. All have accused the President of groping, fondling, or forcing kisses on them. And they're calling on Congress to investigate their claims.

They're coming forward at a time when a series of women have accused high-profile men in entertainment, journalism and politics of sexual assault. It's become known as the "Me Too" movement.

All of this is casting a bright light on a very old problem. But there are many working women who can't rely on the media or Congressional investigators to hold their harassers accountable or to make it stop.

Royal Oak attorney Cary McGehee joined Stateside to discuss the steps ordinary women can take if they are harassed at work. McGehee’s firm specializes in civil and employment rights.

Listen to the full conversation above, or see highlights below.

On why women rarely report harassment

“Sexual harassment is almost always about power. The victim is typically in a situation where the sexual harasser has authority over her. And so coming forward and complaining about being sexually harassed by your boss can result in a career-changer for you, and I think that’s why you’re seeing that these women have come forward after years. Because they’re out of that environment now, and they feel empowered to disclose what happened to them. But while in that environment, they felt that they weren’t going to get protected and that their careers would be adversely affected as a result.”

On the do’s and don’ts of reporting sexual harassment

“In a perfect world, if you tell the sexual harasser that it’s not welcome, and it continues, then most companies have internal policies dealing with sexual harassment, and you would want to follow the policies and complain to the proper department, typically the human resources department. I think it’s very important for women to journal incidents as they occur. Keep a journal at home, in terms of the dates that the incidents occured, what happened, and were there any witnesses ... so that you have some kind of documentation if the sexual harassment continues.”

On financial assistance available for women

“I recently represented a woman who was a low-level sales woman working on commissions. She was being severely sexually harassed by the owner of the company. And he knew how vulnerable she was because she was living paycheck to paycheck, and that’s what made her such an appealing victim to him because he knew she would feel powerless. But we handle cases upon a contingency fee basis, we understand that people aren’t in a situation to pay hourly for the work. So our fee is conditioned on getting a result, so there’s no out-of-pocket expenses that the individual would have to pay for legal services in that situation.”

On the impact of the current cultural dialogue

“I think that this is a game-changer because I think all of these complaints are demonstrating how pervasive the problem has been, how the culture has been in all different industries, all different professions for so many years, and that hopefully with this information, employers will change the culture for the women to make them feel protected so that they can complain, and value them as much as they value the higher-ups, the CEOs and so forth.”

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