How to Document Harassment in the Workplace

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About 30 percent of the complaints received by the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pertain to workplace harassment, according to Jenny R. Yang, the Chair of the Commission. Consequently, odds are good that if you work with other people, you’ll experience or observe harassment in some form at some point during your career. Such harassment can have a serious impact on employees, as well as employers as a result of litigation. As a result, it's important for a victim or observer to document workplace harassment in a way that supports company efforts to prevent or deal with it.

Objective of Workplace Harassment Incident Documentation

Workplace harassment violates both federal and state anti-discrimination statutes. Consequently, businesses ask employees to document and report instances of workplace harassment in a particular way to substantiate a complaint so a company can take corrective actions or defend against harassment allegations.

Review Employee Handbook and Company Policies

To become aware of how to document workplace harassment, read company policies and refer to your employee handbook. Frequently, employees, managers and supervisors must follow specific guidelines to record and report workplace harassment. If so, comply with your employer's guidelines and document an incident completely according to your company’s Human Resources department standards.

Read Employment Laws that Prohibit Harassment

To make sure you aren’t confusing attempts at humor for harassment, review any employer-provided training and employment laws related to workplace harassment. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, forbids discrimination based on non-work-related factors, such as race, religion, sex, national origin or color. This and other anti-discrimination laws prohibit harassment, such as unwelcome conduct that’s based on non-job-related factors and directed at an individual or group of employees.

Document the Names of the Harasser and Witnesses

Following any harassment incident, record it as soon as possible. For each incident that targets you, jot down the name of the employee who engaged in the harassing behavior and his position with your company. Also, document the names and positions of any employees who witnessed the harassing behavior.

Describe the Incident

Record as much detail as possible regarding the harassing remarks or actions, but attribute very particular statements to an individual only if you are certain of the exact words spoken. Chronicle the circumstances that surrounded the incident, as well as where and when the incident occurred. Describe how the event affected you personally and professionally, and your response to the harassing behavior. Also, document the responses of other employees who witnessed the harassment. For example, an employee who observed the incident might have encouraged the behavior or attempted to stop it. Rather than save the document to your work computer, save it to a flash drive that you store at home.

Make Note of Retaliatory Actions

Document any actions the harasser took in response to your efforts to confront him or stop the negative behavior. If you discussed the issue with the harasser, make note of your comments and his response. For example, he might have retaliated by excluding you from a team, demoting you or reassigning some of your work duties.

Retain Physical Evidence of Harassment

To further back up your claim of harassment, save emails and other physical evidence of harassment. This evidence might include unwanted gifts given by the harasser or emails sent by him. For each piece of physical evidence, note the circumstances surrounding the evidence and its source, as well as the date and time the harasser gave the evidence to you.

Also, retain evidence of your work performance, including memos and performance evaluations. You can use this evidence to counter any claim by the harasser or your employer that your claim of harassment is a ploy to justify or distract from your poor work performance.

File Formal Complaint

When you’re certain you’ve recorded the harassment incident appropriately, create a photocopy of your document for distribution to the appropriate authority. If your company has a Human Resources department, present the copy to the HR leader and file a formal complaint. Otherwise, provide the document copy to the CEO of your company. Document the date and time that you filed a complaint and with whom you spoke.

Take Action If Threatened

Documenting a harassment incident and filing a formal complaint will help your employer maintain a safe and comfortable work environment. However, if you sense that your personal safety or that of others is threatened, notify your company’s HR leader or CEO immediately.


About the Author

Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.

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