What Is Harassment?

Understanding and Addressing Harassment in the Workplace

harassment at work

Workplace harassment is unwelcome conduct from a boss, coworker, group of coworkers, vendor, or customer whose actions, communication, or behavior mocks, demeans, puts down, disparages, or ridicules an employee. Physical assaults, threats, and intimidation are severe forms of harassment and bullying.

Harassment also may include offensive jokes, name-calling, offensive nicknames, pornographic images on a laptop, and offensive pictures or objects. Interfering with an employee’s ability to do his or her work also is considered to be a form of harassment.

Employees can experience harassment when they are not the target of the harasser because of the negative work environment that can develop because of the harassment.

The Details

In all or some parts of the United States, demeaning another individual regarding a protected classification is illegal and discriminatory. As a form of employment discrimination, harassment can violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Protected classifications of employees, depending on your state, can include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Sex or Gender
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Physical or Mental Disability
  • Color
  • Pregnancy
  • Genetic Information
  • Weight

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment becomes illegal when:

  • Putting up with offensive and unwanted actions, communication, or behavior becomes a condition of continued employment, or
  • The behavior is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that any reasonable individual would find intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Harassment against individuals also is prohibited as retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, participating in a harassment investigation or lawsuit under these laws. The bottom line is that employees have a right to challenge employment practices that they believe constitute harassment.

Demeaning an employee for any aspect of their parental status, appearance, weight, habits, accent, or beliefs can be considered harassment and can add to a claim about a hostile work environment.

Employers avoid harassment charges when they create expectations in their workplaces that all employees will treat each other with respect, collegiality, fairness, honesty, and integrity.

How rampant is harassment?

There is no way to know for certain just how rampant various types of harassment are in the workplace. Undoubtedly, many go unreported to employers or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Others are adequately handled by employers without the need for government intervention.

The EEOC releases detailed breakdowns of workplace discrimination every year. In 2017, the EEOC handled 84,254 charges and secured more than $125 million for victims of discrimination in private, federal, state, and local government workplaces.

Specific reasons for charges being filed are detailed below in descending order. Some charges include more than one reason, so percentages add up to more than 100:

  • Retaliation: 41,097 (48.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Race: 28,528 (33.9 percent)
  • Disability: 26,838 (31.9 percent)
  • Sex: 25,605 (30.4 percent)
  • Age: 18,376 (21.8 percent)
  • National Origin: 8,299 (9.8 percent)
  • Religion: 3,436 (4.1 percent)
  • Color: 3,240 (3.8 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 996 (1.2 percent)
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act: 206 (0.2 percent)

Preventing Workplace Harassment

In any case of workplace harassment, an employer’s behavior must meet a certain standard in the eyes of the law. Just posting an anti-harassment policy, while a positive step, is insufficient to prove that an employer took workplace harassment seriously.

Employers should develop policies that clearly define inappropriate actions, behavior, and communication. The workforce should be trained and educated through the use of examples, and the policy must be enforced.

If harassment is mentioned to a supervisor, observed by a supervisor, or committed by a supervisor, the employer is particularly liable if an investigation was not conducted.

A clear harassment policy gives employees the appropriate steps to take when they believe they are experiencing harassment. Companies must be able to prove that an appropriate investigation occurred and that perpetrators found guilty were suitably disciplined.



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

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Why Are Employment Discrimination Lawsuits Rising So Rapidly?

4 Reasons Why Employment Discrimination Cases Are on the Rise

Employment discrimination lawsuits are rapidly rising. Here is why.

Employment discrimination isn’t always illegal. In fact, you are free to discriminate against people who come in late, people who are unqualified, and people who insist on wearing socks with sandals. Illegal employment discrimination is limited to just a handful of things.

The Federal Civil Rights Law (known as Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, and religion. You’ll note that sexual orientation is not explicitly listed.

However, the courts are divided as to whether or not sexual orientation falls under gender discrimination, and some states and cities it clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal. Regardless, you should consider discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal.

In addition to Title VII discrimination, pregnancy, disability, association with someone who has a disability, and genetic information are all protected under federal law.

 

Employment Discrimination Lawsuits Are Rising Rapidly

The EEOC reported that employment discrimination lawsuits are on the rise and have been for several years. While the figures for 2017 are not yet available, it would be surprising if they dropped off. Here are the figures for 2016:

 
  • Retaliation: 42,018 (45.9 percent of all charges filed)
  • Race: 32,309 (35.3 percent)
  • Disability: 28,073 (30.7 percent)
  • Sex: 26,934 (29.4 percent)
  • Age: 20,857 (22.8 percent)
  • National Origin: 9,840 (10.8 percent)
  • Religion: 3,825 (4.2 percent)
  • Color: 3,102 (3.4 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,075 (1.2 percent)
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act: 238 (.3 percent)
 

1. Increased Awareness

If you don’t know something is illegal, you won’t file a legal complaint about it. The original discrimination laws were passed more than 50 years ago, and yet not everyone knows their rights. As more people learn, they can recognize when a boss or coworker behaves illegally.

Additionally, as employers increase training programs designed to prevent discrimination and harassment, people recognize harassment they faced in the past.

 

Increased awareness doesn’t indicate an increase in actual bad behavior. It merely indicates that more people are aware of their rights. Hopefully, as awareness increases, more people will understand their responsibilities as well, and actual cases will decrease over time.

 

2. Increased Coverage

This goes along with increased awareness. As people see reports of discrimination in the news, they realize they are not alone, and there is something they can do about it. In 2017, the “New York Times” had over 1600 articles where the word “discrimination” appears. Not all of these, of course, are employment cases, but it brings the ideas to the forefront. The “Washington Post” had over 2000 articles in the same time period, including the following headlines:

 
 

If you are reading these headlines every day, even if you don’t read the articles, you can infer that discrimination is everywhere, and it brings up questions. For instance, if it’s racial discrimination to have a certain dress code at a restaurant, is it also racial discrimination to have a certain dress code at your office? You may not have considered that as a possibility before.

 

The other thoughts these headlines spark is the idea of a big financial gain. The Missouri prison worker who won $1.5 million is not a usual case. Most discrimination cases don’t result in big payouts, but if you think that you might have a big winner of a case, you may be more willing to file a lawsuit.

 

3. Social Media

In the past, you could complain to a few friends, complain to HR and maybe hire a lawyer, and that was it. Today, if you can get a tweet or a Facebook post to go viral. Everyone can become their own public relations firm today.

 

You can find out about harassment and discrimination cases that happened across the country (or the world) to people you have never met and knew nothing about until a viral post landed in your social media feeds. This can encourage people to feel like they are not alone. It can also put pressure on companies and organizations to change their behavior.

 

4. Employer Panic

Employers are reading the same headlines and attending the same training classes that employees do. The number one reason for a discrimination lawsuit in 2016 was “retaliation.” Illegal retaliation occurs when someone complains about discrimination (or other illegal behavior), and the company punishes the complainer.

 

Employers know that they can face serious consequences for violating discrimination laws. In an attempt to make the problem “go away” they can retaliate against employees by punishing them for complaining.

 

For instance, Karen complains that her boss, Bob, is harassing her, and the company moves her to a new position with less prestige. Or, Javier’s boss tells him to stop speaking Spanish on break. When Javier refuses, his boss gives him a lower performance rating. Heather goes on maternity leave, and when she comes back, she found that her boss gave all of her best clients to other employees.

 

All of these are examples of retaliation, and companies often retaliate in panic or denial. The idea is, that if you can just shut up the complainer, the problem will go away. Sometimes this works, as people would rather find a new job and leave than fight it out with a lousy employer, but if they decide to sue, the employer gets hit with a retaliation charge.

 

Does This Increase in Employment Discrimination Cases Mean You Should Sue?

If you’ve been illegally discriminated against, you certainly have the right to your day in court. You can file a complaint with the EEOC, or you can hire an employment attorney. But, keep in mind that winning an employment discrimination lawsuit is difficult and expensive.

 

Of those cases that make it to court, the employee wins in only 1 percent of the cases. While that sounds dreadful and hopeless, keep in mind that most cases settle out of court. Many are sealed, so you have no idea how much money, if any, the employee received. But, huge sums are not common, and you have to pay your lawyer as well unless the EEOC takes your case.

 

Cases can also take years to work their way through the courts, during which time you are under stress. It’s often logical to just walk away. However, this does not mean you should let harassment and discrimination go.

 

Everyone needs to make his or her own choice. But it does mean that you need to be careful how you act in the workplace. People won’t stand for illegal discriminatory behavior anymore. And that’s a good thing.

 

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Suzanne Lucas is a freelance journalist specializing in Human Resources. Suzanne’s work has been featured on notes publications including Forbes, CBS, Business Insideand Yahoo.

 



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

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Types of Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination

What is workplace discrimination, and what constitutes discrimination against employees or job applicants? Employment discrimination happens when an employee or job applicant is treated unfavorably because of his or her race, skin color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, or age.

It is illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, gender, or national original when hiring or in the workplace.

It is illegal to discriminate in any facet of employment, so workplace discrimination extends beyond hiring and firing to discrimination that can happen to someone who is currently employed.

What Is Employment Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate in hiring, discharge, promotion, referral, and other facets of employment, on the basis of color, race, religion, sex, or national origin. This is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In addition, federal contractors and subcontractors must take affirmative action to guarantee equal employment opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. Executive Order 11246 is enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Distribution of EEOC Complaints

The EEOC reported the following breakdown for the charges of workplace discrimination that were received by the agency in 2018:

  • Retaliation: 39,469 (51.6% of all charges filed)
  • Sex: 24,655 (32.3%)
  • Race: 24,600 (32.2%)
  • Disability: 24,605 (32.2%)
  • Age: 16,911 (22.1%)
  • National Origin: 7,106 (9.3%)
  • Color: 3,166 (4.1%)
  • Religion: 2,859 (3.7%)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,066 (1.4%)
  • Genetic Information: 220 (0.3%)

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.  



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com