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What is considered workplace harassment? Any actions by one employee toward another which are unwelcome and lead to an employee having difficulty doing his or her work can be considered workplace bullying and can lead to a hostile work environment. Harassment in the workplace is considered illegal at the federal and state level and can be based on several factors including religion, gender, age, ethnicity, race, genetic information and sexual orientation.
If you feel uncomfortable at work due to the actions of others, the best thing you can do is to call an experienced employment attorney who can help. The Law Offices of David H. Greenberg will give you a free and confidential consultation to help guide you on if you may have a case and what you should do. How you respond to the unwanted behavior and what you do at work can have a huge impact on both your career at the company as well as whether or not you may have a valid case. Please call us toll free at 1-888-204-1014.
Recognizing Workplace Harassment
In order for conduct to be considered workplace harassment, several factors must present. To begin with, the behavior must be offensive and unwelcome to the employee. Then the employee must voice his or her objection to the conduct so that people at the workplace are aware of the behavior and have a chance to change their conduct. And third, the conduct must actually inhibit or impede the employee from properly executing his or her duties at work. Employees are protected by law from experiencing harassment at work by several federal laws including: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If someone makes an offhand remark one time that offends you, this is probably not going to be considered workplace harassment. In order to be considered unlawful harassment one of two conditions must be met. Either the bullying must be ongoing and severe enough that it creates a workplace where any reasonable person would find it abusive or hostile or suffering from the offensive behavior becomes a required part of the job.
While we would hope that employees would all act courteously and respectfully toward one another, that is unfortunately not always the case. Sometimes employees are subject to offensive behavior from a coworker or supervisor. This not only makes for an uncomfortable work environment, it can also be illegal. What constitutes hostile or offensive behavior? There is a wide array of conduct that can be considered offensive including intimidating, assaulting or threatening to assault someone, mocking or ridiculing, insulting or putting someone down, displaying offensive pictures or objects, or actively interfering with someone’s work performance. Illegal workplace bullying is not just limited to a supervisor harassing a subordinate. In fact harassment can include a co-worker, a non-employee an agent of the employer or even a supervisor in a totally different department. In addition, a victim of workplace harassment is not just limited to the person being harassed. It can also be anyone at work who is affected by the offensive behavior. So if for example you are an African American and your supervisor is harassing another African American employee for being black, even if the supervisor has never said anything to you personally about the fact that you are an African American, you may still be the victim of workplace harassment or a hostile work environment.
Generally individuals are not liable for harassment, even if they are the ones doing the harassing. It will be the employer who is liable under the law. When harassment is done by a supervisor, generally the employer will be liable if they can prove that they took reasonable care to prevent harassment and to promptly correct any harassment and that the victim failed to take advantage of the company’s anti-harassment policy. This means that if you do not report the harassment, you can easily invalidate what would have been a legitimate case of workplace harassment. If the harassment is done by a coworker, then there is a slightly different process to prove culpability. In this case, the victim must prove that the employer was fully aware of the harassment (or reasonably should have been aware) but then either ignored it or failed to stop it.