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What to do if you witness sexual harassment at work

Federal and state laws protect employees from sexual harassment. Unfortunately, this still occurs in many New York businesses. And you do not need to be the victim of harassment for it to affect you and your career. If you witness sexual harassment, you should know how to respond and provide support. 

Stopping harassment

Ultimately, know that whether to report an incident of sexual harassment should be a decision the victim decides. However, you can show support and stop harassment when you witness it.

One program, called The Five Ds, offers some suggestions for how to do this. They include:

  • Distract: Taking attention away from the harasser can stop misconduct. Interrupting them or ignoring them can de-escalate the situation.
  • Delegate: You can ask a third party, like another co-worker or manager, to step in.
  • Document: Recording details of misconduct can be helpful, whether you do this with video or audio recordings or written notes.
  • Delay: Checking in with a target of harassment after an altercation can be crucial. Ask them if they are okay and if there’s anything you can do. 
  • Direct: Intervening in harassment directly involves calling it out in the moment and in front of others. Keep it brief and make sure you are safe.

These measures can help you stop harassment and show your support to the victim.

If you witness harassment as a manager or employer, know that you have a legal obligation to stop harassment. Depending on the situation, you may need to reprimand, reassign or terminate the harasser to prevent illegal conduct. Failing to fulfill your duty can have legal and financial consequences for you.

Being a valuable witness

If a victim does decide to report sexual harassment, you can help by providing witness statements throughout any investigation or hearing that results from a complaint.

Some witnesses fear retaliation or would rather not get involved in this situation, but making statements can help victims build their cases. 

Focus on being clear and accurate. Keep notes of dates and times of harassment and secure any recordings or messages you might have to preserve them.

Being a bystander to workplace sexual harassment can be upsetting; knowing what you can do to stop it and hold harassers accountable can help you and victims navigate a difficult situation.

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