Best practices for receiving & responding to disclosures of workplace sexual harassment
Tip sheet for peers and coworkers
Be clear on the limits of confidentiality
Every employee should be informed as to the limits of confidentiality when disclosing workplace sexual harassment, as per applicable federal and provincial laws. Remind your peer or co-worker of the limits on what you can keep confidential and what information you are obligated to report. Communicate these limitations either.
Ask: “How can I support you?”
Your peer or co-worker may be experiencing distress or other personal issues as a result of the workplace sexual harassment. Ask how you can lend support. Ask what they need to feel safe or supported. If you feel you are being asked for more than you are able to offer then refer your peer or co-worker to support providers who can assist.
If you are not a key decision-maker or investigator tasked with handling sexual harassment reports, there is no reason why you cannot validate the experience of workplace sexual harassment disclosed to you by your peer or co-worker. In this specific context, it’s okay to say “I believe you.”
Ask: “What would you like me to do with this information?”
Sometimes your peer or colleague just needs a supportive ear. Other times, they need more. To avoid any misunderstandings, ask them about any expectations they have from you now that you know what they are experiencing. They may want you to accompany them to HR to report; they may want you to keep the information to yourself; or they may want you to listen and help them find support agencies. Be prepared to ask this critical question and respond accordingly.
Avoid investigating or advising action
Your peer or co-worker should not be urged to share the details of their experience with you or anyone else at the disclosure stage. There is no need to ask for specifics about who harassed them, where they were harassed, who saw this conduct or why they did not come forward sooner. Further, they should not be urged to report or take any other action. For now, they need a supportive and empathetic ear. They will let you know if they want to take immediate action.