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.

 

————————————————

 

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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Filing a Discrimination Claim – Virginia

Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion.  Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Virginia employment discrimination.  The purpose of the Virginia Human Rights Act is to protect workers in Virginia from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Virginia employment law and how the law protects you.

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Virginia?

The Virginia Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status or disability (physical or mental).

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Virginia?

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.

The Virginia anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 6 and 14 employees, you should file with the DHR, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency.

To file a claim with the DHR, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the DHR can be found at the DHR website.

Division of Human Rights
202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: (804) 225-2292

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your closest local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC Filing a Claim page.

Norfolk Area Office
Federal Building, Suite 739
200 Granby Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
Phone: 757-441-3470
TTY: 757-441-3578

Richmond Area Office
400 N. Eight Street
Suite 350
Richmond, VA 23230
Phone: 800-669-4000
TTY: 800-669-6820

Washington Field Office
131 M St., NE
Fourth Floor Suite 4NWO2F
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: 1800-669-4000
TTY: 1800-669-6820

EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online.  This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period.  Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge.  All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System.  If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use.  The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC’s state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the DHR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the DHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in Virginia have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.

4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?

When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:

  • Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
  • Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
  • Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction

If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents.  Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”

How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).

5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Virginia?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the DHR or EEOC and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your case. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with the DHR.

Because Virginia’s state anti-discrimination statute does not permit the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (intended to punish the employer) that are allowed under federal law, and severely limits attorneys fees and back pay awards, many Virginia attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal law. A case filed in state court using federal law may be subject to removal, which means that a defendant employer requests to move the case to federal court because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.

Once the EEOC issues the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161), only then can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) A lawsuit based on your state claim must be filed within 180 days from the date you believe you were discriminated against. An investigation by the DHR does not delay this deadline. These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations”. Please be aware, however, that you may have other claims arising out of your employment relationship which have shorter statutes of limitations.

If you have received one of these agency dismissal notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com



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