Workplace Sexual Harassment TA Bulletin



Date of Publication
February, 2022

Working with Businesses 

Programs have been experiencing an increased demand for training, policies, and technical assistance from local employers about workplace violence and harassment. While these issues touch on a lot of the work we do as sexual assault programs, it doesn’t always feel like this is our wheelhouse. This TA Bulletin includes some helpful framing and resources so you have somewhere to start when receiving community requests.

Lean into the aspects you are really comfortable with.

Explain your roles and be clear with them. Advocates and preventionists are not human resource or legal professionals. The business may need to or want to utilize people in those roles, too for some aspects of this work.

Sexual Harassment Law. This is a good place for businesses to start. PDF posters in English and Spanish can be printed.

Where programs can really help is with broadening the understanding of sexual harassment and violence, supporting employees who experience harassment, getting the business familiar with services offered, and options for those who have experienced harm in the community. Programs are also well-equipped to help them to think about what it might look like to create a culture in the business that interrupts and doesn't tolerate harassment.

Explore what is driving their interest.

Has something bad happened? Are they being proactive? Are they working to protect themselves from lawsuits?  This will help you develop your approach and locate the best resources and referrals.

If you’re using a prevention framework, you're already used to approaching things from a strengths-based place, and probably not typically as much from the perspective of what the law says. Just like the way making sexual violence illegal and telling people it isn't legal to perpetrate hasn't worked to prevent it, the same will need to be true about their approach with workplace harassment. This necessitates an organizational culture that strives for more than avoiding getting in trouble. Be clear that you aren't there to just tell employees harassment is against the rules or even to be the "expert" on what their organizational policies are, but to talk about culture change. 

Let’s Talk About… Rape Culture. This WCSAP resource was created for schools but was made to be adapted by you to meet your needs.

Where Change Happens: The Aftermath of Sexual Harassment. The Center for American Progress lays out key priorities for comprehensive change.

Some businesses could be interested in bystander training for employees, particularly in restaurants and bars. This can tie in well to addressing the culture of the environment. 

If a business is more deeply engaged, use a prevention framework to encourage them to do an organizational policy review and that could be something you support them in (if you have the capacity for that/ it fits in your scope of work). 

STOP SV Technical Package. This type of strategy is listed as a promising practice from the CDC.

Consider the type of work.

There are a number of resources and strategies that are specific to different industries. Healthcare, janitorial, farming, bars, and ridesharing all have unique risk factors and work cultures and can use tailored tools.

Basta! Worksite Training and Toolkit. The Basta Coalition in Washington has resources specifically addressing sexual harassment in agriculture. There are training videos, a trainer's guide, model policies, posters, etc. Even if this is not the type of small business that approached you, there are elements of these resources that can be helpful. 

Workplaces Respond to Sexual and Domestic Violence. Futures Without Violence developed this national resource hub They have training tools, model policies, etc. that are workplace specific even (agriculture, healthcare, restaurants, etc). They have sections specific to advocates, employers, survivors, co-workers, and unions. They also have an abundance of workplace policies. 

Maine Can Do. The Maine Coaltion Against Sexual Assault developed their own intensive statewide project & resource hub on this topic. Some of the items are specific to Maine law, but there are some very useful model policies for different sizes and types of organizations that can be applicable. 

Working with Survivors

Now that we’ve made connections with businesses, what about when we have those who have experienced sexual harassment that come to our program for services? 

Legal Advocacy

Advocates have so many tools at our disposal to help those who have been traumatized to navigate and research challenging systems and provide legal advocacy and accompaniment. 

Sexual Harassment at Work. Legal Voice has created an FAQ page on the legal rights and options for who have or are expereincing sexual harassment at work. 

Employment Rights. Washington Law Help has information on basics of leave, injury, unemployment, and more.

Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Connection to attorneys for those who have experienced sexual harassment. If there was also related retaliation in the workplace, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund may be able to help fund the legal fees.

Emotional support

A number of studies indicate that sexual harassment has negative mental health effects. These effects can last for many years after the harassment (Dansky and Kilpatrick 1997; Houle et al. 2011). Even when relatively infrequent and less severe, harassment can have significant negative effects on psychological well-being and work behaviors (Schneider, Swan, and Fitzgerald 1997). When someone experiences PTSD after harassment or assault, they can be retraumatized each time they have to confront the incident, such as reporting it to HR, or interacting with the abuser.

  • Explore ways in which the abuse may have affected their sense of worth, particularly around work or education.
  • Consider particular concerns or fears about looking for or starting employment.
  • Plan for issues that may come up around work, knowing that anxiety or other mental health symptoms can increase at different times (maybe at the onset of starting a new job, once they are comfortable, or if conflict arises).
  • Work on strengthening or developing skills for dealing with painful or disruptive feelings such as relaxation or grounding techniques.
  • Help to identify workplace supports (e.g., schedule flexibility, supportive co-workers, or a workplace safety plan).

Self-Care After Sexual Harassment. This guide from Lean In is designed for people who have been sexually harassed. You can use it with your Lean In Circle, in a small group, or with a partner. 

Safety plans

Those who experience harassment at work can have previously experienced violence and find themselves triggered and revisiting old wounds. Harassment can also lead to increased risks of workplace accidents by leaving workers distracted while working in a dangerous job (Sugerman 2018). 

  • Support survivors in developing a safety plan around the workplace, if they need one. 
  • Discuss and research potential workplace accommodations related to disability, if applicable. 
  • Plan for possible triggers survivors may face in the workplace (such as controlling and aggressive behavior, arbitrary rules, conflict, and discrimination and oppression such as racism, homophobia, and sexual harassment).
  • Strengthening or developing skills for dealing with painful or disruptive feelings such as relaxation or grounding techniques.

Requesting and Negotiating Reasonable Accommodation. The Job Accommodation Network has suggestions and a sample request letter.

Financial resources and job search

Unemployment is a concern for some women who feel they must leave a job due to sexual harassment before finding another job opportunity (The Nation 2018). Work is so deeply connected to our ability to survive on a basic level. It provides for the physiological and safety requirements in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The ability to leave an abusive environment is not dissimilar to those who stay in abusive relationships for economic security.

  • Connect to client assistance funds that are available in your program or area.
  • Explore job training needs.
  • Practice talking about interruptions in work history (if applicable) when applying for jobs and during interviews.

Helping Survivors Navigate Online Education and Training Opportunities. Many education and training programs offering opportunities to build or improve skills have had to move online due to the pandemic and many new programs are emerging to help job seekers upskill and improve their employment prospects.

Notes and References

Dansky, Bonnie S., and Dean G. Kilpatrick. 1997. “Effects of Sexual Harassment.” In Sexual Harassment: Theory, Research, and Treatment, edited by W. O’Donohue, 152–74. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Houle, Jason N., Jeremy Staff, Jeylan T. Mortimer, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone. 2011. “The Impact of Sexual Harassment on Depressive Symptoms During the Early Occupational Career.” Society and Mental Health 1(2): 89–105.

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health. (2011). A Trauma-Informed Approach to Employment Support: Tools for Practice

The Nation. (February 7, 2018). “When Harassment Is the Price of a Job.” Bryce Covert.

Schneider, Kimberly T., Suzanne Swan, and Louise F. Fitzgerald. 1997. “Job-Related and Psychological Effects of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Empirical Evidence from Two Organizations.” Journal of Applied Psychology 82(3): 401–15.

Sugerman, Lauren. 2018. “#MeToo in Traditionally Male-Dominated Occupations: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment.” Chicago: Chicago Women in the Trades.