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How to apply #MeToo to your workplace

Women are encountering men at work who (1) want to sexually harass them or, (2) pay them less money for the same work accomplished by their male co-employees or, (3) advance their male colleagues up the ladder at a more rapid rate, despite their equal performance or (4) inflict upon them some combination of all three.

1. Understand your workplace rights.

Know there are federal and state laws that prohibit employers, supervisors or co-workers from treating employees with disrespect, or differently than other employees, because of their race, gender, national origin, age and/or disability or serious medical condition, and that such mistreatment predictably causes emotional, physical and/or financial harm.

2. The offensive behavior must be “unwelcome.”

You must make it “clear from the beginning” that the offensive comment or verbal sexual advance “is not acceptable because it has gained no traction with you whatsoever.” This “communication” requires considerable skill as an overt rejection of a man’s “manhood” can easily morph into the other end of the discrimination rainbow for the woman – retaliation: no promotions, no equal pay, no raises.

If the comment is particularly insensitive or if a sexual advance or physical touching is involved, immediately suspend the interaction and report the misconduct.

3. Skillfully document “unwelcome” behavior. In most of my cases, the men simply deny their misconduct ever occurred or it “was not that bad” or there was a “misunderstanding” on the part of the woman. Therefore, follow up the encounter or conversation with an email or text that describes the offensive conduct or quotes the offensive remark, for example, “I felt uncomfortable yesterday when you put your hand on my back,” or “Please don’t call me ‘gorgeous’ any more.”

4. If the perpetrator does not immediately cease his offensive behavior, report it to his immediate supervisor. Again, be skillful, and do it in writing. Stay factual, do not embellish and do not demand any specific retribution or punishment unless the behavior includes physical touching or is repetitive. You are legally entitled to report unwanted sexual behavior without suffering any adverse consequence.

5. A “protected complaint” will help insulate you from retaliation. When you complain to your chain of command about unwanted sexual overtures, physical or verbal, or about sexual discrimination, your complaint is “protected,” which means that any retaliation directed against you by your supervisors or by management because you make a protected complaint is, in and of itself, an illegal violation of anti-discrimination laws. A “protected complaint” protects your job.

6. Be the perfect employee; do not provide your employer with a “legitimate, good faith business reason” to terminate you. During your employment, and especially during the period when you are enduring illegal discrimination, be the perfect employee: always on time, doing your job to the best of your ability and never insubordinate – unless, of course, your “insubordination” is your refusal to submit to illegal acts of discrimination.

7. Immediately contact a lawyer for advice when the discrimination starts. A lawyer trained in employment discrimination law can advise people how to skillfully manage their response to workplace discrimination in real time.

Women in all of our workplaces across the country, in every community, rich or poor, and of whatever race or religion, need to understand that they really do have tangible legal rights, and they need to know how to skillfully hold men accountable if there is any hope for an end to misogyny in our lifetime. “#Me Too” must also include “And We Now Know.”

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