Complaining About Sexual Harassment Takes Courage and Causes Stress!

By Lindy Korn, Esq.

Why does making a complaint about unwelcome advances cause STRESS? Why does unwanted touching seem impossible to stop when a person says NO? Why do I have to work in FEAR of the consequences of SPEAKING UP?

The following is a report by an employee to her employer.

Working in the service industry has helped me maintain a work schedule that allows me to work during hours when I can parent my children without having high daycare costs. The tips are worth the hours I work and enable me to provide for my children. So, why is it so hard to keep this job?

Recently, I’ve had my buttocks grabbed, been kissed on my hand, and had my boss rub and press against my body. But I’m not the only one. Other female employees have experienced the same behaviors. We receive invitations for drinks and dinner and overnight trips. Those of us who say ‘yes’ get the better shifts and more time off. I am at my breaking point! I’ve learned that saying ‘no’ to my supervisor or boss does not prevent me from experiencing a hostile workplace. In fact, I feel more targeted and diminished when I object to the pornography at work and am isolated and accused of ‘not being fun enough.’  More importantly, when I reported what I’ve been experiencing to Human Resources, my complaint was deemed unfounded. Now, I fear termination and I am the sole breadwinner for my family. Sometimes it seems more bearable to just give in, but if I did, I would not be able to live with myself. 

It turns out that my fears were justified. After attempting to raise my concerns, my hours were reduced, and eventually my employment was terminated. The reason given for my termination was that I was not performing well. However, I had never even been written up!

Complaining causes a rupture in the culture that sexual harassment is not going to be tolerated. It often makes one feel as though they are to blame. Those who complain are made to feel shameful for objecting to the unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, there is no way to come forward easily to tell the truth when others consent to the abhorrent behavior. Additionally, this fosters low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. In this culture secretiveness becomes essential, resulting in isolation, even from those closest to the person being victimized. As a result, most do not even believe in the truthfulness of the complaints that are made, as they seem too outrageous!

My suggestion for those who are brave and want to work without being touched in an unwanted manner, is to seek a mental health counselor/therapist to strategize a plan of action. It may also be helpful to consult an attorney who can help choose the right words in making a complaint of sexual harassment in accordance with the employer’s policies.

To be brave sometimes takes a core community to be heard! Above all, do not go it alone because it is too stressful!

Lindy Korn, Esq. is an attorney in Buffalo. She can be reached at 716-856-KORN.