There are two common pieces of advice that are typically given when someone is suffering from sexual harassment at work: Talk to your boss about it, or bring it up with HR. But how do you report sexual harassment at work when you can’t go to your boss or HR? What if your boss is the one who’s harassing you? What if your company doesn’t even have an HR department? What if you’re a freelancer or a contractor, or you work, say, in a restaurant, as an entertainer, or in another job that isn't a 9-to-5 office job with benefits? “If [sexual harassment] happens in a workplace without an HR department or formal procedures in place, you may feel powerless and unsure what steps you can take, if any,” Gregory W. Pontrelli, HCS, president and CEO of Lausanne Business Solutions, tells Bustle in an interview. “However, there are certainly steps you can take to protect yourself professionally and personally as well as remedy the situation if something happens.”
Make no bones about it: Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. It's a violation of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination of certain protected classes, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And that means that, as Allison Green of Ask A Manager notes over at U.S. News & World Report, “If you're being sexually harassed or harassed on the basis of your race, sex, religion, disability, national origin, age (if you're 40 or older) or other protected class, HR has a legal obligation to investigate and put a stop to it.” Indeed, says Green, “HR is often better to approach in this situation than your boss, because HR staff tend to be aware that they need to handle these issues seriously and carefully and are generally trained in how to proceed (whereas your boss may or may not be).”
But if your company doesn’t have an HR department, that doesn’t excuse your employer from needing to deal with the issue. Suzanne Lucas, who runs the website Evil HR Lady, points out over at The Balance (emphasis mine), “If your coworker is sexually harassing you, the company is still obligated to stop the harassment, even without an HR manager to conduct the investigation.” The law is clear: Sexual harassment is not permissible, whether you have an HR department or not or whether you feel you can go to your boss for help or not.
Here are steps you can take if you’re dealing with sexual harassment at work and you’re in a position where going to HR or your boss don’t seem like viable options.