Being a witness to any type of wrongdoing in the workplace can place you in an uncomfortable situation. However, when wrongdoing involves sexual advances, inappropriate flirtations, crude words and other forms of sexual harassment, you may feel too embarrassed on your and the victim’s behalf to speak up.
Understandably, speaking out against any type of harassment can feel uncomfortable. However, you have an obligation to support your coworkers and to help create and maintain a safe and nonhostile work environment. Part of that responsibility entails taking appropriate action when you witness wrongful acts. The National Partnership for Women & Families provides tools to help bystanders respond appropriately to harassment.
The 5 Ds of immediate intervention
If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, immediately intervene on behalf of a victim of sexual harassment. There are five ways in which you may effectively do so:
- Direct: Confront the harasser and let him or her know that his or her behavior is inappropriate. Ask him or her to stop.
- Distract: If you do not feel safe directly confronting the harasser, simply interrupt the situation by engaging the target. Find a reason to get him or her away from the harasser.
- Delegate: You may ask a third-party, such as a supervisor or security officer, to intervene on your behalf.
- Delay: If you cannot or choose not to intervene immediately, seek out the target later and let him or her know that you witnessed the harassment and will support him or her going forward. If you feel safe doing so, confront the harasser as well and let him or her know you found the behavior inappropriate.
- Document: At the very least, document the incident and follow up with the target.
Which route you take depends on your comfort level and the perceived threat of the harasser.
Report the incident
As an employee, you have the right to report any harassment or wrongdoing you witness in the workplace without fear of retaliation. However, you should ultimately leave the decision to report or not up to the individual who experienced the harassment, as he or she may have reasons for not wanting to take action. That said, you can support the individual regardless of his or her decision and prepare to serve as a witness should the time come to do so.
You have several legal rights as an employee and bystander to harassment. It is important that you know your rights so that you can help to maintain a safe work environment.