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Thinking of reporting sexual harassment? Read this first

Sexual harassment at work is still very common, despite all the progress that women have made in the workforce. If it's happening to you, the best way to stand up for your rights and put a stop to the behavior is to report the issue to your human resources department.

Unfortunately, you may have very real and very justified fear of retaliation if you make a report. It's estimated that three-fourths of harassment victims never speak up. Of those that do, 75 percent are likely to experience some form of retaliation as a result.

It's almost as if companies blame the victim of harassment for disrupting the normal office routine and creating an issue, instead of putting the blame where it belongs on the harasser. Knowing this is important because the knowledge allows you to make a plan just in case it happens to you.

Here are the biggest things to keep in mind:

1. The human resources department works for the company, not you.

The company's human resources department isn't there to ensure that your interests are represented. A human resources representative, no matter how initially sympathetic to your experiences, may end up being your worst nightmare if the company decides to defend your harasser instead of you. Review your company handbook for its sexual harassment reporting policies and follow every instruction to the letter. You want to make it very difficult for anyone to find fault in how you've handled the situation.

2. Quitting benefits the company, not you.

Some people feel like they're better off quitting instead of putting up with the ongoing harassment and retaliation. Ultimately, you have to make that decision for yourself, but quitting generally makes it impossible for you to negotiate your exit terms and set yourself up for a smooth transition to another job. In some situations, quitting may allow you to file a claim for a constructive discharge, but it's usually better to stand your ground. Reporting sexual harassment is your right, and retaliation is against the law.

If you're the victim of sexual harassment and are afraid of retaliation for making a report, an attorney can help you understand your choices and how to best protect your rights and your future.

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