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Facing sexual harassment at work? Take these five steps

If you are forced to listen to demeaning, gender-based jokes, your supervisor is demanding sexual favors in exchange for a promotion, or you are suffering from any other type of sexual harassment at work, you may feel helpless. You may believe that there is nothing you can do to change the situation or put an end to the harassment.

This is not true. Both federal law and California state law give you rights in the workplace, and it is possible to assert those rights. To do so effectively, however, it is wise to take certain steps. An article in Forbes outlines some of the most important ones:

1. Document as much as you possibly can. Print out copies of any harassing emails. Write down your coworkers' inappropriate comments. Take photos of any posters, cubicle decorations, cartoons or other visual images that are creating a hostile work environment.

2. Don't advertise your actions. While you are gathering evidence to support your sexual harassment claim, keep it quiet. It's best if your harasser doesn't realize that you are collecting evidence against him or her - otherwise he or she may seek to destroy that evidence or otherwise complicate your situation. Instead, gather your documentation as inconspicuously as you can and take it home with you. (Don't leave all your notes in a desk drawer in your office, for instance.)

3. Get a professional opinion. It's worth it to consult an employee rights attorney who has particular experience in sexual harassment cases. This gives you the chance to get the highly skilled counsel you need to make the right legal moves. Your lawyer will be able to help you create a detailed strategy for ending the harassment while protecting your career, your reputation and your rights.

4. Report the harassment. Under federal law, you must give your company a chance to take action and correct the harassment. For this reason, you are required to report it to your employer - preferably in writing, so that you have it on record.

5. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the event that your employer refuses to correct the situation, you can file a formal complaint with the EEOC. You can also pursue a lawsuit against your employer if you are discriminated against or fired because you reported sexual harassment. Such a lawsuit can potentially provide financial compensation for the injustices you suffered. Again, an attorney can advise you and advocate on your behalf throughout this process.

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