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Bystander actions against sexual harassment in the workplace

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2024 | Sexual Harassment |

Witnessing sexual harassment in the workplace can be unsettling to those who are not the direct target of the harassment. While bystanders feel sympathetic for harassment victims, they may be hesitant to act on the misconduct they witnessed due to fear of retaliation and other consequences affecting their employment.

However, bystanders play a crucial role in preventing, interrupting and addressing such inappropriate behaviors—a role that they can practice while having the law’s protection against retaliation.

Intervening directly

If it feels safe to do so, a bystander can directly intervene in a sexual harassment incident and confront the harasser. This could be as simple as saying, “That comment is inappropriate,” or “That behavior is not okay.” However, it is understandable that this approach is easier said than done, especially when the harasser is a manager or someone holding a higher position.

Seeking authoritative support

If a bystander does not feel comfortable intervening directly, they can seek help from someone who has the authority or capability to address the situation, such as a supervisor, human resources (HR) representative or local employee rights agencies. This way, even if a victim cannot seek help themselves, a witness can do it for them.

Offering support and resources

Offering support to a sexual harassment victim is an act that holds so much weight. This support could involve listening to them, validating their feelings and offering to accompany them to report the incident if they choose to do so. If a victim has no idea how to proceed with the incident, a bystander could also help by introducing available resources and remedies.

Combating sexual harassment with trusted allies

If you are a witness of workplace sexual harassment and are supporting a victim who needs specific advice or guidance on handling a situation, it is advisable to reach out to relevant authorities and consult with a legal professional who specializes in this area to protect both of your rights.