Should You Report Harassment to Your Boss?

66.6% of victims were not aware of the workplace policies regarding sexual harassment.

Report Harassment to your Boss?

When harassment and discrimination happen in the workplace, everyone’s instinct is to either pretend nothing happened, or to try to make the problem go away as quickly as possible.

In theory, your company wants to resolve every issue as quickly as possible, because your company is responsible for the safety of their employees.

This can work to your benefit. If you don’t want to “make a federal case of it” and just want the issue resolved so you can continue working with out worry, you my consider going to your boss for help to resolve the problem.


This is a potentional option only if you can answer NO to all of the following questions:

  • Is your boss the harasser?
  • Is your boss complicit with the harassment?
  • Is your boss already aware of the problem and they failed to take action?


If the answer is YES to any of the questions above, going to your boss is not a solution. You may want to consider going to HR.

Furthermore, if you want to keep your complaint informal, and your boss is required to report all harassment issues to HR, (check your employee manual), than going to your boss directly escalates the issue automatically. You may consider an anonymous complaint to your boss or HR, even if it’s not part of your company’s policy, in order to have your complaint on the record, while protecting your identity.

What to Consider Before You Go to Your Boss

It is important to keep a few things in mind while you evaluate the risks and benefits of going to your boss. Your boss works for the company. Their obligation is to the company. They may have specific guidelines they must adhere to, regarding a harassment complaint, that you are not aware of. They also may have more discretion and resources to resolve harassment issues quickly.

It is safe to report a complaint if:
  • You feel safe talking to them
  • Your department and company culture is safe
  • You feel like your boss has your back
  • Your boss manages the person harassing you
  • They have the authority to take your requests about how your complaint is handled, into account
  • They are mandated by company policy to report harassment to HR, and you feel comfortable with that step
Do not report a complaint to your boss if:
  • They are directly or indirectly harassing you
  • They are complicit with the harassment
  • They are aware of the problem and have failed to take action to resolve it
  • They have a personal relationship with your harasser
  • Your department or company culture is toxic
  • They don’t manage or have authority over the person harassing you
  • They are mandated by company policy to report to HR, and you are not ready for that step

5 Steps to Prepare to Go to Your Boss

1. EDUCATE YOURSELF:

Regardless of what you decide to do, it is important to document the incident. You can find our documentation templates HERE.

  • Check your employee manual on the policy and process for reporting harassment. Write down any questions you have.
  • Determine what type of harassment you are experiencing or witnessing HERE.
  • Determine the level of harassment you are experiencing HERE.
2. EVALUATE COMPANY AND DEPARTMENT FACTORS:

Only you understand the dynamics at work and in your personal life. It is important to evaluate all the information and put it into context with where you stand.

  • Is your boss an ally? Is your relationship professional and productive?
  • What is the standing and status of the harasser at your company?
  • How is your company culture regarding harassment?
  • What is the likelihood the problem will be resolved if your boss steps in?
3. EVALUATE RISKS AND BENEFITS:

Creating an outline of all the potential benefits and risks will help you come to a conclusion on the best way to proceed.

  • What are the risks and benefits of reporting the issue to your boss?
  • Here are some potential benefits and risks to consider:

Benefits of Reporting to Your Boss

  • Potential to resolve the problem before it escalates
  • Gets the complaint on the record
  • You have an advocate on your side to help determine next steps and options within company policy
  • You have another person watching out for your well being

Risks of Reporting to Your Boss

  • The conversation is awkward or uncomfortable
  • Your complaint is dismissed or belittled
  • Your boss has the power to make things uncomfortable in unforeseen ways in the future
  • You give up control to someone else
4. DETERMINE YOUR GOALS FOR THE MEETING:

Having a goal in mind for meeting with your boss, will keep you on track before, during and after your meeting.

  • What is your goal for reporting harassment to your boss? What outcome would you like to see?
  • What type of acknowledgement from your harasser, do you need to hear for this case to be resolved?
  • What type of ongoing commitment do you want, from the harasser and your boss, in order for this problem to be resolved?
5. PREPARE DOCUMENTATION AND QUESTIONS:

Prepare documentation for yourself, including your timeline [see documentation templates HERE].

  • Summarize how this has impacted you and your work, in writing.
  • Write down your resolution proposal. (ex: I would like to see an apology, and an informal complaint added to their file, so if further issues arise, there is a record of other complaints).
  • Make a copy for yourself and your boss

Prepare questions for your boss to ensure transparency:

  • What is the process, as they understand it?
  • How do they plan to handle your complaint?

Roles and Responsibilities

YOU

  • Represent yourself
  • Define, speak and hold people accountable to your boundaries
  • Document everything!
  • Be prepared for each stage of the process
Roles and Responsibilities

BOSS

  • Find a resolution to the problem between the harassed and the harasser, within their purview
  • Represents company interest
  • May be required to report all complaints to HR

The Meeting: Reporting Harassment to Your Boss

1. REQUEST A MEETING:

Request a meeting to ensure privacy without interruption.

  • Do not include your written complaint in the email. You want them to HEAR your complaint, your questions and your boundaries, directly from you. You don’t want them determining next steps without your input.
  • You may want to request a meeting offsite to protect your privacy and minimize gossip etc.
  • If you need a third party for support, or have a witness, include them in the meeting.
2. MAKE YOUR COMPLAINT:

You must represent yourself.

  • Summarize your complaint.
  • Be clear about what you want your boss to accomplish on your behalf.
  • Be clear about how you want them to handle your complaint.
  • Be clear about what your proposed resolution is.
  • Ask questions about next steps. If you don’t agree with the action plan, speak up.
3. LISTEN:
  • Listen to objections, explanations or excuses that are used to dismiss or minimize your complaint.
  • Listen for a commitment to your proposed resolution.
4. WRAP UP:
  • Confirm next steps
  • If there is no resolution, request time to think about what was said in the meeting. Do not threaten further action.
5. POST MEETING ACTIONS:
  • Send an email with meeting summary and documents shared in the meeting.
  • Document meeting for your records [see template HERE ]
  • Keep an eye out for continued or escalated behavior or retaliation from the harasser or your boss.
  • Confirm your boss has followed through on action plan.
  • Document resolution or escalation.

If the Problem is Not Resolved

Reporting harassment to your boss may not be an option. And if harassment continues, escalates, or you experience retaliation, you have additional options to consider:

  • Consider making a complaint with your HR department
  • Consider filing a complaint with the EEOC
  • If you are considering leaving your job due to ongoing harassment, see this article about constructive discharge (What is Constructive Discharge), or consider consulting an attorney to negotiate an exit with a settlement
  • Remember to document everything

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