Watching a coworker face harassment or mistreatment at work is hard to see. You may feel compelled to take action on their behalf, but try to keep those emotions in check. There are ways you can help, but you could put their job at risk if you jump into the middle of the fray. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that your coworker wants your help.
That said, discrimination has no place in the workplace or the world at large. The desire to help is a noble one, but you need to be careful and thoughtful. Below, you will find some helpful tips for helping coworkers who are facing discrimination in the workplace.
Reach Out to Your Coworker
One of the best things you can do for a coworker is to let them know that they are not alone here. Strike up a conversation or invite them to lunch. If they are reluctant to talk, keep it even more casual. Make a point to greet them in the breakroom or ask them how the day is going.
If you witness an act of harassment, mentioning that you thought the treatment was uncalled for might not be a bad idea. However, do not push them to discuss it further. They may feel nervous talking about it in the workplace, or they’d prefer to just put the incident out of their head as quickly as possible. They may not even realize they are being harassed. Hearing that you thought the treatment is unfair might be comforting, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be ready to discuss it.
If you have a friendlier, more open relationship with the coworker and they are more open about their experience, let them know that you are always there to listen. You can float the idea of taking legal action, but don’t force the issue. Keep in mind that they are far more likely to face serious consequences by challenging this behavior than you are, so it’s understandable that they would be cautious.
Another advantage of staying under the radar when harassment takes place is that you can gather evidence. Employers and coworkers will often try to hide or obscure their behavior if someone criticizes it. While that might help reduce some of the harassment, it is unlikely it will go away entirely – they’ll just be more careful about how they express it. That said, you should not sit idly by if something extreme is happening or you can intervene without putting yourself or your coworker at risk.
You may witness examples of harassment in emails or chatrooms. Screenshot these instances and save them on a secure drive. Take note of anyone who tries to challenge discriminatory behavior and consider reaching out to them – they could be a valuable witness if legal action is taken.
Be Willing to Help
Striking out against workplace discrimination is not easy. There are many reasons why your coworker is reluctant to take action - shortage of time is a big one. It takes time to fill out paperwork, meet with attorneys, or reach out to activist that may be willing to help. They may have family or personal obligations that prevent them from doing this. Let them know that you’ll be willing to do your share of the work. You can’t do everything for them, but you can pick up their kids from school, buy groceries, or track down helpful resources. Taking legal action for discrimination is a big endeavor, and it’s a tough one to tackle alone.
Talk to an Employment Lawyer
It’s not your place to file a claim on your coworker’s behalf. However, your coworker is not the only one who will face the consequences of an employer’s or coworker’s harassment. Others in the workplace may be experiencing the same thing without any idea of what they can do. It’s difficult to sit by and watch this happen. Your ability to help may be limited, but you can be proactive.
By meeting with a knowledgeable employment lawyer and telling them about your work environment, you can get valuable tips on how to try and create a safer atmosphere. You can also get more advice on how to reach out to a coworker and support them through this difficult time.
It’s difficult to face the harsh reality that you can only do so much in these situations, but staying informed and keeping up with events may one day lead to change. It’s possible that the day may come where you and your other coworkers can take collective action against the company to end the harassment. Whatever happens, be mindful and ready to help.