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

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Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

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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.

 

————————————————

 

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

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Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

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Reasonable Accommodation Process

Source: D.C. Government’s Office of Disability Rights

Request Process – Employee Requests an Accommodation

Employees or applicants with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations of the employer, regardless of title, salary, grade, bargaining unit, employment status (permanent, temporary, provisional, emergency) or civil service status (regular, exempt). This request does not have to be in writing, be formal or use any special language. An individual may use “plain English” and need not mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.”

Here are some examples from the Job Accommodation Network:

Example A: An employee tells her supervisor, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation

Example B: An employee tells his supervisor, “I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example D: An employee tells his supervisor that he would like a new chair because his present one is uncomfortable. Although this is a request for a change at work, his statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that he is requesting reasonable accommodation. He does not link his need for the new chair with a medical condition.

A request for accommodation also may be made by a family member, health professional, or other representative who is acting on the individual’s behalf with the individual’s consent.

The employee usually initiates the reasonable accommodation process by inquiring about the process from a supervisor, Human Resources representative, EEO Counselor, or the ADA Coordinator at the agency. If the supervisor is contacted first, the ADA Coordinator should be brought in early in the process.

If an employee with a known or obvious disability is having performance problems, a supervisor may suggest an accommodation, but only after making a preliminary determination that the performance problem is related to the employee’s disability. This is an exception to the general rule against inquiring about disabilities, and extends only to those with known or obvious disabilities.

The reasonable accommodation does not have to be requested at the beginning of employment. However, a reasonable accommodation request will not cancel out any prior disciplinary actions.

Interactive Process

The ADA requires that the employer engage in an interactive dialogue with the individual with a disability concerning reasonable accommodations. It is best to take a methodical approach in addressing requests for reasonable accommodation from employees.

Immediately upon receiving the reasonable accommodation request, the agency ADA Coordinator/EEO Counselor should schedule a meeting with the employee as soon as possible. The employee’s collective bargaining agent or other person(s) of his/her choosing may assist the employee during this meeting.

The agency’s ADA Coordinator should conduct an informal, interactive discussion with the employee. The discussion should include the following steps:

  1. A review of the agency’s detailed, written job description/vacancy announcement delineating the “essential functions” of the position from the “marginal functions.”
  2. A determination of how the employee’s impairment/disability limits his/her ability to perform the essential functions of his/her job in order to identify the employee as a qualified individual with a disability.
  3. An identification of potential accommodations and assessment of the effectiveness of such accommodations on the employee’s job performance.
  4. Identification of the type of accommodation needed. The Job Accommodation Network can be contacted for assistance in making this assessment at 1 (800) 232-9675 (Voice/TTY) or http://janweb.icdi.wvu.edu.
  5. Consideration of the preference of the employee; however, the agency has the right to select among the alternatives available, as long as they are effective.
  6. Selection and implementation of the effective reasonable accommodation by the agency as expeditiously as possible. Keep the dialogue open with the employee and discuss time lines for obtaining the accommodation and follow up with the employee on unexpected delays.

The agency may find it difficult to accommodate the disability because it is not well understood or because neither the employee nor the ADA Coordinator know what equipment, modification or accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The agency ADA Coordinator should consult the Office of Disability Rights (ODR) for additional reference material and service organizations that may help in identifying appropriate accommodations.

Medical Documentation and Confidentiality

If the disability is not obvious, and there is no other medical information already on record for the employee, the agency can require the employee to submit documentation from a physician or other medical professional concerning the existence and extent of the disability. Before consulting with the physician, it is necessary to obtain the individual’s written consent for the release of medical information to the agency.

The employee’s medical information must be maintained in a confidential file separate from the employee’s personnel file or other records and must not be revealed to anyone who does not need to know in order to provide the accommodation. In some instances, the employee’s supervisor does not need to know about the person’s disability or accommodations. In those situations, the information should not be shared with the supervisor.

Information about the employee’s disability or accommodations should not be revealed to co-workers, customers, or members of the public.

ADA Determination

After the initial meeting and review of medical documentation (if submitted by the employee’s healthcare professional), the agency will make a determination whether the employee is a qualified individual with a disability and develop a Reasonable Accommodation Plan for the employee.

Reasonable Accommodation Plan

The Reasonable Accommodation Plan will:

  1. State whether the employee is a “qualified individual with a disability” as defined by the ADA;
  2. Outline the employee’s essential job functions needing accommodation;
  3. Recommend types of accommodation; consideration will be given to the preference of the employee, however, the agency has the right to select among the alternatives available; and
  4. Determine whether any accommodation causes an undue hardship or poses a direct threat.



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

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Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

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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

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bchapman@baclaw.com

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What Employees Need to Know About D.C.’s Medical Marijuana Laws.

As of September 2019, the District of Columbia has a new law that protects District of Columbia government employees who are medical marijuana users.  Act Number A23-0114 is called The Medical Marijuana Program Patient Employment Protection Temporary Amendment Act.

The Act states, “A public employer may not refuse to hire, terminate from employment, penalize, fail to promote, or otherwise take adverse employment action against an individual based upon the individual’s status as a qualifying [medical cannabis] patient unless the individual used, possessed, or was impaired by marijuana at the individual’s place of employment or during the hours of employment.”

The law does not apply to either employees in “safety sensitive positions” or to those who are required to undergo drug testing as a federal requirement.

Act Number A23-0114 specifically protects District of Columbia government employees who are medical marijuana users, but it does not protect private sector employees or federal employees who are medical marijuana users.  Nationally, laws do not protect public or private sector employees who: 1) use or possess marijuana during hours of employment, and/or 2) are impaired by marijuana during hours of employment.

In the past, an employer could terminate an employee who tested positive for marijuana.  The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does not protect medical marijuana users and declares marijuana an illegal substance.

However, the current trend, in some state and local courts, is to protect employees who are registered users of medical marijuana due to a debilitating medical condition.  This is particularly the case in states and localities where medical marijuana is legal and reasonable accommodation laws exist that specifically protect employees who are medical marijuana users.

Currently, the District of Columbia’s laws do not protect private sector employees who are medical marijuana users.  A private sector employer could terminate an employee who failed a drug test for marijuana, even if the employee is a medical marijuana user.  Whitmere v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 359 F.Supp. 3d 761, 778 (Dist. Court, D. Arizona 2019); Coles v. Harris Teeter, LLC, 217 F. Supp. 3d 185, 188 (Dist. Court. District of Columbia 2016) (“As the courts in those cases concluded, the District here can at most be said to maintain a public policy that decriminalizes and allows the consumption of marijuana for private medical reasons. That is a far cry from prohibiting employers from terminating such users.”)

However, in light of Act Number A23-0114, which protects District of Columbia government employees who are medical marijuana users, one has to wonder whether a District of Columbia court, applying local laws, could determine that private sector District of Columbia employees who are medical marijuana users have similar protection.

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

202 508-1499