Most people who are being sexually harassed don’t report the harassment to their employer, because they don’t want a formal investigation. It’s really common for people to feel like the harassment isn’t serious enough to be worth reporting, or to worry that an investigation will make things worse for them, not better.
If you do want a formal investigation, read about how to make an official report to your employer.
If you don’t want a formal investigation, you’ll need to be careful.
Why? Because some workplaces are subject to laws or internal policies that require an investigation whenever that workplace has any reason to believe somebody might be being sexually harassed. In those workplaces, if you talk with your supervisor or HR about sexual harassment, they may have to start an investigation even if you don’t want them to, and even if they don’t want to.
If you think your workplace might be like that and you don’t want to trigger a formal investigation, here are some scripts for how you might be able to talk with your employer without triggering anything formal. But we need to warn you: these scripts may not work. Any time you raise the issue of sexual harassment with somebody at work, it’s possible an investigation may get triggered, even if nobody wants one.
That said, here are some scripts you might try:
I want to talk with you confidentially about a problem I’m having here at work with another person. But before I can do that, I would need you to promise me that this would be confidential. I don’t want HR involved or anything like that. Can you promise me we can keep it between us?
Let’s say, hypothetically, there’s a trans person in this office, and one of their co-workers finds out their old name and won’t stop using it. If that happened, and the trans person reported it to their supervisor, would the supervisor have to launch an official harassment investigation, or do you think they could just talk to the co-worker and tell them to use the trans person’s correct name?
I wanted to talk with you because I trust you. I’m having a problem here at work, with another person. I thought it would go away but it isn’t. I don’t want to name names right now. But I am looking for advice. Can I speak with you confidentially?
If you don’t care whether you trigger an investigation, or if you feel pretty confident that you won’t, then you could try these kinds of scripts:
I don’t know if you know this but the new co-owner has been coming into the bar most nights. He’s been getting pretty drunk, and when that happens, he gets flirty with me and the other women. Can you talk to him and get this shut down before it gets any worse?
I’ve been starting to feel uncomfortable about the guys in the warehouse. There’s always been a lot of teasing and joking, and lately I’ve been feeling like it’s crossing a line. The other day one guy used an anti-gay slur in front of me. I don’t want to get anybody in trouble and I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m ratting them out. But I’m worried this is getting worse. Can I ask you to step in and see if you can get them to take it down a notch?
You know Ernie, the client I’ve been helping with his foot care? Last time I was there he was pawing at me. I’m not sure if he really knows what he’s doing, because of his dementia. But still, it was scary, because we’re alone and he’s pretty strong. Do you think you could assign him to someone else, maybe a man, instead of me?
In our office, there’s a lot of sexual banter. People use crass language loudly in the common areas, there are a lot of sex jokes, and stuff like that. It’s not directed at me; in fact I think they try to tone it down around me because they can tell it makes me uncomfortable. But still, it happens every day. I find it distracting and I think it’s inappropriate at work. Do you think you could talk to people and ask them to cut it out? I don’t want anyone to get in trouble. I would just really like it if they would stop.
Our client Dan is being kind of awful. He keeps talking about how ‘cute’ and ‘fun’ I am, and complimenting me on what I’m wearing. Yesterday he heard I’m getting married, and he made a whole thing out of how sad he was. I’m starting to get creeped out. I feel like it could be risky for me to try to address this myself, because I’m so junior and he’s an important client. I would really like to be moved to a different file. Do you think we could do that?
I work at night with Ben. This is weird, but when we pass each other in the halls at night, he always pretends to punch me in the groin. He’s laughing and he obviously means it as a joke. But I don’t find it funny. Every time he does it, I ask him to stop, but he keeps doing it. Do you think you could tell him he really does need to stop?
You know I’m trans. Erin found out my old name, the one I had before I transitioned, and now she keeps calling me by it. I’ve asked her to stop, but she keeps using it, and she says it shouldn’t bother me because she’s not trying to be offensive. But it does bother me and it is offensive. Can you talk to her and make her stop?
In talking with your employer, try to be clear about what you want. If you want them to talk directly with the harasser, you can tell them that. If you would rather they handle it some other way, tell them that. Your employer may not be able to handle the harassment the way you want them to, but in a good scenario they will try.