What legally qualifies as harassment?


When people hear the term “workplace harassment,” they often imagine a guy uncomfortably asking out a co-worker, getting shot down and then continuing to make uninvited romantic overtures. Or maybe it’s something like a boss yelling at an employee in front of other coworkers for some kind of minor mistake. These are bad situations, but that is often not what workplace harassment looks like. Instead, workplace harassment is anything that creates a hostile environment for any individual because of their race, color, national origin, gender or gender identity, age, disability status or any other protected characteristic. The behavior must also be unwanted and create an atmosphere that interferes with an employee’s ability to do their job and may even drive them away from the company altogether.


What is a Hostile Environment?

A hostile work environment is one where an employee’s job is made difficult because of discriminatory or harassing behavior in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that often creates a hostile work environment. In a hostile work environment, the work environment is so bad that it interferes with an employee’s ability to do their job. It’s important to note that a single incident may not create a hostile work environment, but a series of incidents may. And it’s also important to note that just one person’s behavior may be enough to create a hostile work environment; harassment doesn’t have to be mutual. For example, if a supervisor frequently makes comments to an employee about that employee’s appearance and those comments make the employee feel uncomfortable and negatively impact their ability to do their job, that may be enough to constitute a hostile work environment.


Discrimination and Harassment

Discrimination refers to treating employees differently because of their protected characteristics, such as their race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, age, disability status, or any other protected characteristic. Discrimination does not have to be verbal or sexual in nature, but can also be an act of omission. Discrimination is illegal, regardless of whether or not an employer or supervisor intended to discriminate against any particular individual. Most employers have written policies in place outlining expectations and consequences surrounding discriminatory behavior. Most discrimination falls under a “disparate treatment” scenario, in which one or more employees are treated differently than others because of their protected characteristic. Employees who feel they have been discriminated against have legal options. The first step is to report the discrimination to an employer HR representative or supervisor. If that doesn’t lead to a satisfactory conclusion, employees can file a complaint with the EEOC or file a lawsuit in court.


Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that occurs when an employee is subjected to inappropriate sexual comments or conduct in the workplace that interferes with their ability to do their job. Sexual harassment does not have to be ongoing, but can happen just once if it’s severe enough to create a hostile work environment. Harassment is different from flirting in that it is persistent and unwanted, and either involves a supervisor and a subordinate or is widespread enough to create a hostile work environment. Most employers have sexual harassment policies in place. If an employee feels that they have been sexually harassed at work, the first step is to report the harassment to a supervisor or HR representative. If that doesn’t lead to a satisfactory conclusion, the employee can file a complaint with the EEOC or file a lawsuit in court.


Gender Based Harassment

Gender-based harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to comments or conduct based on their gender that creates a hostile work environment. Gender-based harassment can occur between employees of any gender, between employees and supervisors and between employees and the company itself. Most employers have policies against gender-based harassment. If an employee feels that they have been subjected to gender-based harassment at work, the first step is to report the harassment to a supervisor or HR representative. If that doesn’t lead to a satisfactory conclusion, the employee can file a complaint with the EEOC or file a lawsuit in court.


Race Based Harassment

Race-based harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to comments or conduct based on their race that creates a hostile work environment. Race-based harassment can occur between employees of any race, between employees and supervisors and between employees and the company itself. Most employers have policies against race-based harassment. If an employee feels that they have been subjected to race-based harassment at work, the first step is to report the harassment to a supervisor or HR representative. If that doesn’t lead to a satisfactory conclusion, the employee can file a complaint with the EEOC or file a lawsuit in court.


Disability Based Harassment

Disability-based harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to comments or conduct based on their disability that creates a hostile work environment. Disability-based harassment can occur between employees of any disability, between employees and supervisors, and between employees and the company itself. Most employers have policies against disability-based harassment. If an employee feels that they have been subjected to disability-based harassment at work, the first step is to report the harassment to a supervisor or HR representative. If that doesn’t lead to a satisfactory conclusion, the employee can file a complaint with the EEOC or file a lawsuit in court.


Other Forms of Harassment

Harassment isn’t just about sex or race. People can be harassed because of their age, religion, national origin, disability, or any other protected status. Even general hostility towards one of these groups can be grounds for harassment.


How to Report Workplace Harassment

If you feel that you have been the victim of harassment in the workplace, the first thing to do is report the harassment to a supervisor or HR representative at your company. If the person doing the harassing is your supervisor, you don’t necessarily have to report the harassment to them; you can go to someone else. Once you report the harassment, your employer is obligated to investigate the matter and take action. If an investigation shows that you were wronged and the harassment was unwarranted, the company must take action to correct the situation. If you feel that your report wasn’t appropriately addressed or if you don’t receive a response from HR, you can contact the EEOC at their website or call the organization directly. You can also file a lawsuit in court.


Have you been ordered by the court to take a harassment course?

Maybe you have not experienced harassment but have instead been accused of harassment. In this case you may have been found guilty of harassment and were ordered by the court to take a harassment class. Whether you have decided you could benefit from taking a harassment course, or you have been ordered by the court to take a class, Advent eLearning has the resources you need. Our online harassment classes teach students to understand their unhealthy treatment of others and learn techniques to change their behavior. Go to Advent eLearning today for your online harassment course.


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