REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/punishments-workplace-harassment-14063.html
When most people think of workplace harassment, they automatically think of sexual harassment. While sexual harassment is one very serious type of workplace harassment, the term covers a variety of negative actions committed against one employee by another, or by the manager or owner of the company. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines workplace harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” To be illegal, harassment must be either repetitive or severe. Both employees who engage in harassment and the organization in which the harassment occurred can be punished for this offense.
Although harassment laws clearly define what is and what is not harassment, individuals may be offended by words or actions that others find completely inoffensive. In many cases, the first “punishment” an employee may receive for harassment is simply a conference with a human resource representative and, sometimes, with the offended party. At this conference, the HR representative might work with the two employees to ensure that the offender understands what the complainant finds offensive and promises to refrain from offending again. Depending on the severity of the claim or whether it is a repeat offense, the employee may also be subject to counseling, monitoring, demotion, probation, transfer or a written warning or citation in the employee’s permanent file.
When an employee brings a workplace harassment suit against a company where he works or worked, it is the company, not just the offender, who faces legal consequences. For this reason, most organizations have a specific policy regarding workplace harassment, which stipulates what is considered harassment, how to report harassment and the punishments for harassment. If the harassment is severe or happens more than once, an employee may be fired. For example, in cases of “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, when a person in a supervisory position offers some sort of employment benefit in return for a sexual favor, termination is a logical punishment.
According to the EEOC, a company can be held liable for harassment that occurs on its property, which means it may be forced to pay compensation. The commission notes that companies are responsible for harassment situations that result in “a negative employment action,” like a demotion or firing. However, employers are also responsible for other types of harassment if they knew about it and did nothing or if they should have known about the incident and did not. This liability covers not just people working for the company, but others, like independent contractors, whom it controls. When organizations are held liable for harassment, they may be forced to compensate the victim by providing money for lost wages, legal fees, counseling and other expenses.
Harassment is a criminal charge, and if the victim presses criminal charges, the person doing the harassing may face jail time. The amount of jail time, probation or community service the convicted harasser receives is based on whether the harassment was a misdemeanor or a felony and in what state the crime was committed.