Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – With more than a dozen women accusing Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein of harassing them, people around the country are looking at their own workplaces.

Jesse Nelson, a Knoxville-based employment lawyer, said sexual harassment at work is an issue his office gets calls about regularly.

“We get sexual harassment claims regularly, and this Harvey Weinstein case is unfortunately a textbook case, where a lot of people know it’s going on and all of a sudden someone will call me and they will say you need to talk to these other ten women,” Nelson said.

A recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll revealed about 70 percent of people who claim to experience sexual harassment at work do not report it. Nelson said many women fear losing their jobs or other forms of retaliation if they were to come forward.

“Depending on a woman’s socioeconomic status, maybe she really needs the job,” he said. “In my experience as an employment lawyer, a lot of times I find that the woman really likes her job and she might even like her boss and the person harassing her. Sometimes it’s one for those things that they decide I’m going to keep my head down and accept it.”

But if you are a victim, Nelson said there are things you can do to protect yourself, beginning with reporting the offensive act.

“You have to report it. You just have to report it,” he said. “Document what you believe to be offensive or sexual harassment. Then, consult the employee handbook. Most companies will have an employment handbook that will tell you what to do.”

He said then take your claim to a trusted supervisor, and once the claim is reported, there are things the employer should do to put an end to the harassment.

“First of all, take it seriously,” Nelson said. “Talk to the woman, ask questions. Do it confidentially, do it privately, but perhaps with an HR personnel or manager so that there’s a witness, investigate. Take it seriously and address the issue.”

Nelson said that he hopes employers around the country draw lessons from the Weinstein case and strive to improve their own harassment policies.

“Let’s strengthen our policies,” Nelson said.  Let’s use this as an opportunity to look at our handbook, make sure we have protections in place for women to come forward who feel like they’re being sexually harassed. Let’s provide appropriate training and don’t get too confused that this is still a place of business and we need to act professionally while we’re at work.”

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