Steps To Take If You’ve Been Sexually Harassed At Work

Writer: Nadhirah Badardin

Here’s a situation I feel like we’ve come across one too many times – you show up to work, ready to take on the day and the tasks on your list. And as you walk towards the pantry for a coffee, a colleague decided that it would be the perfect moment (not that there’s ever any) to pipe up about how that outfit makes you look “bangable” while some other colleague sniggers in agreement. You shoot them a dirty look (and a few curse words) and go on about your day. And then two days later, it happens again. And again. And if you’re not sick of this degrading sh*t by now, I’m not even sure if you’re even real.

But just in case you’ve experienced/are experiencing something like this at the workplace and want to do something about it, here are some steps you could take:

Figuring out if you’ve been sexually harassed

A lot of people simply put up with sexual harassment because they don’t recognize it. To them, it may just be playful banter, so they’re more inclined to shrug it off as such. In any case, sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome, unwanted nonconsensual sexual attention inflicted upon an individual. However, it’s important to recognize the gray areas when it comes to harassment. There’s a big difference between a sexual comment like “Nice ass” and something like “You look nice today”.

But ultimately, if you feel like you have to put up with this crap to continue working there, you could always try to…

Confront your harasser

Depending on the situation, you could try putting the harasser in check by confronting him/her. Be firm, put that “you better not f*ck with me” voice you use when some guy grinds up on you at the club and tell the harasser to stop. If the harassment stops, great. If it doesn’t, you should start…

Gathering as much evidence as possible

In case you decide to file a complaint later on, it’s useful to keep a record of the times you have experienced harassment. A lot of times, sexual harassment cases get written off as invalid because it can be seen as a ‘he said/she said’ situation. Hence, having a record of when and where it happened, witnesses and how the experience made you feel would really help put your narrative of the accounts at the forefront.

Human Resources won’t always have your back

So, you’ve decided to make a sexual harassment report with HR, and so far, all they’ve said is “Thank you for your complaint. As we take claims like this seriously and we’ll start an investigation. Also, let’s try to keep this between us.” It’s important to remember that human resources ultimately work for the company, so they won’t always have your best interests at heart. If the company has a strict sexual harassment policy and a record of working vigorously to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, you’re in luck. But just in case HR tells you to “lighten up” and “not take jokes too seriously” from the get-go, you’re in for a hell of an unpleasant ride.


Know your rights

It’s useful to read up on the laws surrounding sexual harassment in Malaysia. Just in case your employer tells you to “take it easy” after a sexual harassment report, it’s important to know that the Employment Act makes it a MUST for the employer to attend to complaints of their employee’s sexual harassment complaints committed by a co-worker, client or customer of the employer. Failing to act on the complaint by an employer is deemed an offence, making them liable to a fine of up to RM 10,000 if found guilty. But just in case you’re unhappy with the solution provided by your employer, you could lodge a police report against the harasser under the Penal Code. In case that doesn’t work out either, you can also initiate a lawsuit against your harasser in the civil court for sexual assault or battery.

Disclaimer: This article was written for general informational purposes only and is not meant to be used as legal advice in any manner whatsoever. If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment at work, make sure to seek proper legal advice.