Harassment in the workplace can have a devastating emotional and physical impact on a worker. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and recent amendments to the law make it illegal for an employer or coworker to harass an employee because of their age, race, religion, marital status, national origin, sex, pregnancy, disability, gender identification, or sexual orientation. Harassment of anyone in these protected classes is considered discrimination under federal law. Many states have also enacted their own laws that offer further protection against workplace harassment.
Negligent Employers Can Be Held Liable
Employers are held liable for harassment of employees by supervisors, colleagues, and even contractors or customers when they fail to prevent or correct the reported harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for investigating cases of harassment that are reported, and will fully investigate and penalize those responsible.
Employees who encounter annoying co-workers or demanding supervisors are not necessarily facing harassment. Harassment occurs when offensive or inappropriate remarks, unwelcome physical contact, or insulting gestures about the employee’s race, religion, age, sex, gender identification, or sexual orientation are continuous and so severe that they create a hostile work environment.
Inappropriate jokes, name-calling, insults, insinuations, offensive remarks, and comments that are made on a continual basis can be considered harassment when they are done intentionally and repeatedly, especially after the offending party has been warned about their actions.
Any type of groping, hitting, pushing, or inappropriate or unwelcome touching can be considered harassment when it is continuous and offensive. Claims of harassment can be filed with the EEOC when the continued behaviors intimidate the employee, or make them feel uncomfortable in their work environment. Most physical harassment cases brought to the EEOC are sexual in nature, and can occur between men and women, or same-sex individuals.
Harassment from Supervisors
Employees who are harassed by their supervisors may feel intimidated to report the behaviors for fear of losing their job. Federal, state, and local laws prohibit retaliation for reporting illegal behavior, but many employees report still fearing retribution if they report their supervisor. Supervisors that make racial slurs, inappropriate comments concerning age or religion, or that make unwelcome sexual advances over a period of time can be held liable for harassment. A supervisor who terminates or refuses to promote or hire an employee on the basis of their race, national origin, sex, pregnancy, or other protected class can be held liable under federal and state discrimination laws.
Harassment from Coworkers
An employer can be held liable by the EEOC if they allow a hostile work environment by failing to act on reports of harassment from coworkers. Racial slurs, inappropriate jokes, offensive gestures, or physical actions purposely meant to intimidate or insult a coworker are in violation of federal and state discrimination laws.
Whenever you feel you are being harassed in the workplace, or you witness the harassment of another, it is important to report it to your employer. If the employer fails to take action to correct the situation, you can reach out to an experienced and competent workplace harassment lawyer like those at the McOmber & McOmber. We will review the details of your case and help you determine if you should pursue action through the EEOC.