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How to combat sexual harassment when you're not Oprah

In her powerful acceptance speech of the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes, Oprah declared, "Their time is up!" referring to those who have habitually gotten away with sexual harassment in a variety of workplaces. Her words created quite at stir in the audience, not to mention the Twitter storm that erupted in the following days speculating on whether the television and entertainment star would run for president in the 2020 elections.

While Oprah's declaration may give women (and men) working in hostile work environments hope, it won't necessarily change their immediate realities. For them, sexual harassment or the threat of sexual harassment still exists, even if the "time is up" for those who hold power. What they can do is take steps to protect their rights when enough is enough.

Steps to take when facing sexual harassment at work

If you've experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, most advocacy experts suggest first trying to confront the perpetrator if you are able. This approach can be most effective in cases where off-color comments or naughty jokes are the basis of harassment. Remember: just because it was a "joke" doesn't mean it wasn't offensive.

That said, direct confrontation may not be possible or even feasible, especially in cases of repeated behavior, actual assault or the threat of assault. In every case, it's very important to keep detailed records. Write down what happened, when it happened, and where. If possible, save any physical evidence of harassment such as emails or texts containing lewd photos, jokes or inappropriate comments.

It's also important to report sexual harassment through the proper channels first. Most companies have established procedures for reporting workplace violations to HR or superiors above your supervisor or boss. However, if HR does nothing or the company doesn't take the matter seriously, you can seek legal protection by filing a claim with the local EEOC office or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Taking things to the next level

If you do file an outside claim, you must do so within 180 days of when the harassment occurred. You may also want to seek legal counsel to represent you. Most people don't know how to properly document their experience in a way that establishes their legal claims. Additionally, the process can quickly become an overwhelming sea of rules, regulations and red tape, one that could take years to resolve if it goes all the way to a trial. Better to have someone who knows what to do and when advocating on your side.

Finally, as Oprah's speech and the #MeToo movement attests, you have the right to work in an environment free of harassment. You do not have to put up with harassment in order to follow your dreams. Hopefully, with these steps in mind, you too can be part of changing the way our country deals with sexual harassment cases.

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