Despite the protection and prohibition granted under discrimination laws, harassment is still common occurrence in the workplace. Like discrimination, it is a sensitive and delicate issue that both employers and employees have difficulty dealing with.

Differentiating between Discrimination and Harassment

Although discrimination and harassment are often grouped together as one employment issue, each of them differs in concept. Discrimination involves issues with employment decisions made based on as gender, race, age, and other protected factors. On the hand, harassment refers to individual actions or behavior by a person – such as a supervisor or colleague – to another person based on those factors.

In other words, to be considered illegal, harassment must be based on the factors listed under discrimination basis. Hence, if an employer treats a worker badly because of race, it is racial harassment.

Harassment as a discriminatory act can take many forms. The following acts may help you detect harassment behaviors:

  • Making racial or sexual remarks about a person
  • Making sexually suggestive comments
  • Unauthorized or unwelcome behavior such as physical touching
  • Other acts which are severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment

Legal Protections

Federal and state laws guarantee protection for workers who have become victims of harassment in the workplace. These various laws prohibit harassment as a form of discrimination and make this act illegal and hence punishable under the law.

In California, for instance, the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), specifically part 2.8, section 12900 of Division 3 of the Government Code, and the Regulations of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission under the California Code of Regulations, title 2, Division 4, sec. 7285 to 8504, state the following:

  • Prohibit harassment of employees, applicants, and independent contractors by any persons
  • Require that employers should take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment based on gender or sex, and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions
  • Prohibit employers from limiting the use of any language in the workplace unless justified. The employer must notify employees of any restriction and the consequences for violation.
  • That all employers must provide information to their employees about the nature, illegality, and legal remedies that apply to harassment
  • That employers must publish or use a brochure from the DFEH regarding workplace harassment
  • That employers with 50 or more employees, including public entities, must provide sexual harassment prevention training for all supervisors

How do you deal with harassment in the workplace if the act itself is committed by no less than your own superior, or your supervisor?

If you are experiencing harassment acts in the workplace, here is a simple guideline to follow:

  • Report the violation or incident to your human resource department. If necessary, file an official complaint against the person – whether a supervisor or a co-worker – to find out the proper channels.
  • Secure and gather evidence of the act such as letters, notes, emails and photographs which can help the human resources department with their investigation.
  • If the violation is extreme, you can also report the incident to the civil rights bureau who will conduct a full investigation.
To help you with your issues, you can consult with a skilled employment attorney will ensure that you get the legal protection that you deserve.