How to properly document the harassment you endure at work

Harassment and discrimination can cost companies tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. To protect their bottom lines, most businesses have written policies on discrimination and harassment. Sadly, not every company abides by its stated policies, leaving workers' vulnerable and in the position where they have to stand up for themselves.

If your company isn't doing enough to stop or prevent ongoing harassment and won't take your complaints seriously, you need to take action to protect yourself. Filing a formal complaint or a lawsuit will require evidence that the issue you experienced was not just a one-time slip of the tongue. Adequate documentation can help you establish a pattern of harassment and inappropriate behavior that makes your workplace less inviting and equitable.

Make copies of digital records

Sometimes, harassment and discrimination come in the form of direct communication. Whether you receive text messages with inappropriate content or emails that upset you, retaining copies of those messages is a good step. You may consider forwarding those emails to yourself to maintain in your private email.

If you worry about your company realizing what you are doing, you may find that taking screenshots and emailing those to yourself is a better option. Alternately, if you want to avoid emailing anything, you may want to use a thumb drive to transfer images of questionable messages.

Start keeping notes about what happens and when

You will need a written record for physical or verbal interactions that do not have a digital footprint. Bring your own notebook and pen from home so that the company can't claim you stole office supplies for personal use. Keep them in your purse, briefcase or coat pocket so that they are part of your property and not publicly accessible on your desk.

Whenever you experience harassment, you should take a moment as soon as possible to record what happened exactly. Include the date, the time, the location, the people involved, the names of any witnesses and details of what others say or do. This can help you establish a pattern of inappropriate behavior or comments that, over time, contributes to a hostile work environment.

The fact that you retain documentation should remain personal and private

The first step you should take to resolve issues of harassment or discrimination at work will be to follow your company's reporting procedures. Even if you know they will not take adequate action to resolve the issue, you should alert human resources or management as outlined in the employee handbook or training manual for your company.

Record exactly what they say and what you report along with your other documentation. Keeping a record of your attempts to remedy the scenario can prove that your employer not only ignored the harassment but your attempts to address it.

When you discuss the issue with human resources, you should not let them know that you are retaining copies of emails or otherwise keeping a record. Instead, just alert them to a specific incident or incidences that you feel need to be addressed.

You can always forward emails to human resources as evidence, but you should do so directly from your work inbox without accessing your saved copies. If you already have documentation of what you have to deal with at work, you may need to sit down with an attorney and go over that documentation to determine what your best option is.

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