If your colleagues are disrespectful toward you or you feel bullied at work, you might wonder if it counts as harassment. Then, if it does count as harassment, does the harassment constitute behaviors that might allow you to take legal action? Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, for instance, have protections under the law.
What Is Workplace Harassment?
In a nutshell, workplace harassment describes any behavior that causes you to endure behavior that is unwelcome that is severe or pervasive enough to make it difficult for you to do your job. If the harassment stems from protected characteristics, then you have the opportunity to seek legal recourse.
Various Examples of Harassment in the Workplace
Bullying and harassment can take many forms and each type is important. Many people mistakenly believe that if they do not suffer physical threats or they did not lose their job or miss out on a promotion, it does not count as harassment or bullying. This notion is false. Here are some of the most common examples of work placement harassment:
- Calling people names or using racial slurs
- Offensive jokes, even if the rest of the office finds it funny
- Making physical threats or inspiring fear through intimidation
- Making sexual references or making advances
- Ridiculing or mocking someone because of their ethnic origin or beliefs
- Sharing offensive content with someone, such as pornography
You don’t have to be the intended or the only person victimized by the event to be able to file a claim. There is also no requirement for you to suffer a financial injury to prove that the workplace harassment was a violation of employment laws.
Protected Characteristics for Harassment
Unfortunately, there are many forms of harassment that do not count as violations of employment law, even if they make the work environment hostile or unsafe. For instance, if someone gets picked on because they have crooked teeth, these characteristics are not protected so the person will need to seek other courses of action. Below are the protected classes:
- Gender discrimination
- Race discrimination
- National origin discrimination
- Age discrimination
- Disability discrimination
- Family responsibility discrimination
- Political affiliation discrimination
- Pregnancy discrimination
- Sexual orientation discrimination
- Religious discrimination
What To Expect During the Legal Process
There are many federal and state laws in place to protect employees. Becoming familiar with these laws is the first step. Seeking legal recourse if they are violated is the second. Working with an experienced workplace harassment lawyer who has an understanding of these laws can help to protect you. The protection is especially important if the employer, ironically, decides to take action against you, such as accusing you of slander or libel for speaking out.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a recommended process in place that begins with seeking internal solutions before considering other options. If you work with an attorney at the start of your process, they can better advise you on how to navigate the internal aspect of seeking resolutions as missteps can come back to haunt you if the matter goes to court.
1. Check the Anti-Harassment Policy
Not all employers have one of these in place, but if yours does, check to see what protections it makes available to you. You can sometimes find this information in the employee handbook or on the company website. If you check these resources and you are unable to find one, ask a human resource professional for a copy. When there is no policy at all, try talking to your supervisor about workplace harassment.
2. Follow Company Protocol
If your company has an anti-harassment policy, then it likely also has steps on how to resolve the issue. Follow these steps provided in the policy to see if you are able to reach a resolution. Some people prefer this option because seeking an internal solution is often more peaceful than involving external agencies. Beware of being asked to sign documents during this process. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no resolution or the employer becomes hostile anyway.
3. Know Your Rights
If the employer does become hostile, it’s important to know what you’re entitled to and what protections you have. The EEOC reminds workers that the law protects them from retaliation and they have a legal right to report workplace harassment. Workers also have the legal right to oppose harassment and cannot legally face repercussions for exercising this right, though the employer might retaliate anyway.
4. Turn to the EEOC
Because of the unfortunate trend that employers often do nothing or not enough as well as retaliate, many workers end up filing a complaint with the EEOC. Employees generally have a specific time frame within which to file reports, so it’s important not to allow employers to drag out the resolution process for so long that you miss this window. The EEOC may also meet with you to help you better understand your options.
5. Go to Court
Workplace harassment cases quite often end up in a courtroom. If your employer has a history of mishandling these reports, it may prove safer to seek an experienced attorney from the start of the process. This individual can help advise you on how to handle the situation. This includes how to interact with people at work and what to avoid saying, as the employer might use simple statements taken out of context against you in court.
Why You Need an Experienced Workplace Harassment Lawyer
It can be incredibly difficult to win a workplace harassment lawsuit without the help of an experienced lawyer. Not only will a lawyer understand the law, as well as the court procedures, but they also help you to collect the evidence that you need to win your case.
A good attorney helps you to decipher what information you need to present to the court. They also advise you on how to obtain the information, how to present witnesses, and how to send documents to the jury and the court. Finally, they offer some protection from any unfair tactics that the company may use to twist the truth in its favor.
Are you ready to get some legal advice for your workplace harassment case?
Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!