How to Document Harassment in the Workplace

by Ruth Mayhew

Harassment can create a hostile work environment.

Workplace harassment is a serious violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Many employers expect their employees to be vigilant in preventing workplace harassment. Documentation of the harassment is essential, both for substantiating a harassment complaint or for defending allegations of harassment. Whether you’re a staff member or in a leadership role with the company, document the harassment that you witness and pass it along to your HR department or the company’s director for proper handling.


1. Read your employee handbook and company policies on the action you should take when you witness workplace harassment. If you’re a supervisor or manager, you may have specific guidelines for documenting it. If so, follow them closely so you can provide a complete description to your HR department or company director.



2. Review what constitutes workplace harassment. If you have notes and materials from employer-provided training, re-read them for examples. Also, read applicable employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on non-job-related factors, such as color, national origin, race, religion or sex.The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title VII, as well as other anti-discrimination laws that protect employee rights. Harassment consists of unwelcome conduct, behavior or actions directed at an employee or group of employees based on the non-job-related factors protected by Title VII. Avoid confusing harassment with occasional ribbing or attempts at humor that occur in most work environments.


3. List pertinent information for every instance of harassment that you witness. Include the names of employees engaged in harassing behavior and the names of employees who witnessed it. If the harassing conduct was directed at an individual, highlight that employee’s name.



4. Describe the gist of the harassing comments or remarks if you cannot record them verbatim. Refrain from attributing precise statements to participants unless you can remember the exact words spoken. Complete your description of the harassment incident with the approximate time, location and circumstances that led to the incident. Also, note any responses to the harassment, such as employees who attempted to squash it or employees who egged on the behavior.


5. Photocopy your notes and retain the originals. Provide your human resources department leader with a photocopy. If your company doesn’t have a dedicated HR department, present a copy of your documentation to the highest-ranking manager of the company.

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