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Six key steps to take if you're being sexually harassed at work

Becoming the victim of explicit jokes, being touched inappropriately by a supervisor or suffering other types of sexual harassment is frightening. You may feel powerless. You may believe you have no option but to be quiet and put up with it.

That isn't true. You do have options. You can take back control of your life and your working environment. A recent Forbes article lists a number of key steps to take:

1. Document, document, document. Write down the harasser's comments or threats, along with the date, time and location. If there were any witnesses, get their names and contact information. Also write down any harassing remarks made to your coworkers. You may not be the only victim.

2. Get hard copies of photos and emails. Print out any harassing emails or other online messages. Take screen captures of any sexually explicit cartoons, photos or other visuals sent to you or displayed in your workplace.

3. Keep it secret. Keep it safe. Don't inform the harasser that you are gathering evidence against him or her. Instead, quietly compile as many notes as you can before you confront him or her. Also, take your evidence home with you. Don't leave it in a desk drawer or somewhere else that is accessible to the harasser. If you do, it may conveniently "disappear" before you can use it.

4. Talk with someone who's seen it all before. Consulting an attorney experienced in sexual harassment claims can give you a powerful edge. He or she can help you develop a detailed strategy for protecting your rights while putting an end to the harassment. You don't have to do it alone. Get a savvy advocate on your side.

5. Report the incidents to your employer. Federal law states that you must report the harassment and give your employer a chance to correct it before you can file a lawsuit. Check your company's policy for how to report it. It's always wise to put your complaint in writing or follow up a verbal conversation with a written note. Remember, you want to have as much documentation as you can.

6. Get the EEOC involved. If your employer refuses to stop the harassment, your lawyer can help you file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If your employer retaliates against you by demoting or firing you, you can sue to obtain the justice (and potentially the financial compensation) that you deserve.

Remember, you don't have to submit to sexual harassment. It's illegal, and you can start putting an end to it today.

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