Federal laws and Department of Labor policies prohibit workplace harassment. Most states also have laws against such conduct, so if you are the victim of harassment in the workplace, you have remedies available to you at both the state and federal levels of government.
Workplace harassment is usually associated with offensive conduct of a sexual nature, but other forms of more subtle behavior in the workplace can also be a violation of the law. These three facts about workplace harassment will help you to recognize it, and know what to do if you are a victim.
What is workplace harassment?
Federal laws treat harassment in the workplace as a form of discrimination. Harassment is any unwelcome conduct related to another person’s age, nationality, race, color, religion, gender, genetic information or disability. The workplace harassment usually takes on one of two forms: Quid pro quo harassment or hostile environment harassment.
Quid pro quo harassment is when you are forced to endure and accept offensive conduct as a condition of continued employment or other favorable employment decision from someone acting in a supervisory role over you. Examples of this type of harassment include:
. Being fired or demoted because you refused a boss’s sexual advances
. Being denied a promotion or being assigned fewer work hours because you refused to engage in a religious activities at the workplace
The other type of harassment in the workplace is hostile environment harassment. Unwanted conduct from co-workers, contractors or other people at your workplace that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for you is workplace harassment.
A hostile environment can be created even though the conduct might not have been directed at you. Any behavior that is pervasive or severe enough to make you feel uncomfortable or intimidated is a violation of the law. Examples of hostile environment harassment include:
. Co-workers telling off-color jokes or using profane language related to race, nationality, religion or other similar topics that you consider to be offensive
. Comments about a person’s physical attributes
. Making sexually suggestive gestures
. Displaying pictures or images that are sexually suggestive
. Engaging in physically hostile conduct, such as making threats of physical harm
When is conduct unwelcome?
The truth is that conduct that you might consider as being offensive might be acceptable to someone else. Because of this, courts apply a reasonable person standard when evaluating behaviors that are claimed to be offensive. Judges look to see if the conduct was solicited or invited by the employee claiming to be offended by it.
What to do if you are the victim of workplace harassment?
As a general rule, if you are subjected to conduct that you find to be offensive or that might be a form of workplace harassment, complain to a supervisor. If the person engaging in or allowing the behavior is your supervisor, you should complain to someone in a higher management position in your company.
Employers that fail to institute measures to stop workplace harassment can be liable for damages under state and federal laws. When in doubt about what to do, speak to an attorney or file a complaint with your state labor department.