Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment is any unwelcome physical or verbal behavior on the basis of any one of the protected classes. It is a form of discrimination which violates various laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

These protected classes in which harassment is based include the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (whether of a sexual nature or not, as well as gender identity harassment and same-gender harassment)
  • National origin
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Disability (physical or mental)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Retaliation

Any unwelcome conduct based on these legally protected characteristics constitutes harassment when:

  • The act is pervasive or severe enough to make a hostile work environment; or
  • The harasser's behavior results in an evident change in an employee's status or benefits (for instance, failure to promote, termination, demotion, etc.)

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome acts or comments based on any one of the protected classes unjustly interferes with the work performance of an employee or creates an offensive or intimidating work environment.

Any individual in the workplace may commit harassment that might result in a hostile working environment, such as:

  • Employer
  • Management official
  • Supervisor
  • Co-worker
  • Non-employee (for example, a guest, vendor, or contractor)

Victims of harassment are not limited to those at whom the offensive acts are directed. It can be anyone who is affected by the behavior.

Some examples of sexually offensive actions that might create a hostile work environment include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Leering, specifically, staring in a sexually suggestive way
  • Soliciting, forwarding, or sending sexually suggestive images, emails, notes, or letters
  • Making sexual gestures, hanging sexual posters, telling lewd or sexual jokes, and the like
  • Touching in a manner that might make an employee feel uncomfortable, such as pinching, patting, or deliberate brushing against another person's body
  • Making offensive comments about body parts, clothing, or looks

The following are some examples of actions that can result in a hostile work environment, but are non-sexual in nature:

  • Intimidating or derogatory references to a worker's physical or mental impairment
  • Negative comments about the age of an employee when referring to employees who are ages 40 and above
  • Conveying negative stereotypes concerning the ancestry or birthplace of an employee
  • Negative remarks regarding the religious belief of an employee or his/her lack of religious beliefs
  • Making reproachful comments regarding an employee's gender that is not sexual in nature
  • Comments regarding an employee's skin color or other ethnic/racial characteristics
  • Demonstrations of an ethnic or racial nature, such as the use of pictures, gestures, or drawings that would offend a certain ethnic or racial group
  • Use of racially insulting epithets, phrases, or words

Getting Help

If you have experienced any form of harassment in the workplace, it is your right to file a claim against the harasser. To help you in case, it is advisable to get help from an expert employment law attorney who is experienced in dealing with cases related to harassment and hostile work environment.