You’re at work when someone makes an offensive sexual comment about you. They walk away and you’re left sitting at your desk, staring at the computer screen, unable to believe it just happened.
Over the next week, it becomes common. You can’t tell if they think that the comments are charming or funny or if they’re actually trying to insult you. Regardless, it’s very offensive and creates a toxic work environment. Should you say anything?
Experts note that you want to consider your options carefully to get the best results.
“When people feel that they have to speak up in the moment and they aren’t comfortable doing so, they do it badly,” one expert noted, saying that it may be wise to think carefully about what you want to say before talking to the person.
At the same time, she understood that it’s not wise to stay silent entirely, which is why a lot of these incidents go unreported. “One of the things I’ve learned from my work,” she added, “is that sometimes you don’t know the impact of a comment. Saying something rather than remaining silent can be a powerful thing.”
Saying something allows you to move forward. Maybe they don’t know they’re being offensive and they will honestly be surprised to learn how you felt. This can change their behavior. Maybe they know it’s offensive and they don’t care. Once you know this, you can move forward by talking to HR and considering all of your options — which could include taking legal steps to combat workplace harassment.
Either way, it begins by refusing to ignore illegal, offensive behavior at work.