Are You Being Harassed at Work?
There are very few people who truly love getting up to go to work on a daily basis. Hopefully, though, your work brings you a sense of fulfillment, whether through what you do, earning your living, the people with whom you interact, or what you produce. However, if you have a nagging sense of dread, fear or discomfort at the thought of going to work each day, you need to look more deeply for the root cause.
If you are afraid for your safety, feel threatened, feel objectified, or are repeatedly bullied or penalized for any non-work-related reason, you may be experiencing workplace harassment.
In legal terms, workplace harassment is defined by any discriminatory behavior or commentary that becomes so pervasive as to hinder the employee’s ability to perform his or her job. If your work environment has become intimidating, abusive, or hostile due to discriminatory acts or comments, you have likely suffered workplace harassment and can pursue a legal claim against your employer or coworker.
How to Find a Good Workplace Harassment Lawyer
When pursuing a legal claim for workplace harassment, it is important to find the right attorney or law firm to represent you. Be sure to hire an experienced employment lawyer who is well-versed with the specific workplace harassment laws in your area. While there are some federally legislated protections, each state has their own version of anti-discrimination and harassment laws that may vary slightly from the federal mandates.
Our National Network of Employment Lawyers was created to better help individuals find the right lawyer for their needs in their local area. With over a decade of experience in employment law, we have personally referenced, reviewed and chosen each member of this network with the client’s best interest in mind. We back our employment attorneys and employment law firms who have proven track records of personal attention to their clients, professionalism and legal expertise in all stages of litigation, and outcomes that serve the ideals of legal justice.
Allow our network of legal peers to work for you. Contact us today with the facts of your employment law case and your geographical area and we will begin matching you with the best employment attorneys available to represent you.
When Does Annoying Behavior Become Illegal Harassment?
There is a fine line between insulting, rude commentary and behavior and illegal acts or commentary. While the law cannot legislate morality or kindness, it has defined certain types of behaviors as discriminatory. It is within these clearly defined legal parameters that a successful workplace harassment case can be charged.
Harassment that is proven to be prolonged, excessive, habitual and repetitive is unlawful. Also illegal is any type of harassment that the employee must endure as a condition of their continued employment. If an employee brings such behavior to the attention of a supervisor, manager or boss, they cannot ignore it with a warning that the employee must put up with it in order to keep their job.
Because harassment suits do walk that fine line between moral conduct and legal behavior, the government has defined specific traits or characteristics that are protected by law and may not be used in any discriminatory acts or commentary. By law, any unwelcome conduct that is based on age, gender, race, color, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, disability or genetic information is considered illegal harassment. If a worker experiences any discriminatory behaviors based on these protected traits that lead to an intimidating or offensive work environment, he or she can file a workplace harassment lawsuit.
A harassment claim does not only pertain to intimidation tactics performed by a manager or someone who works above the victim. The offensive conduct could be perpetrated by the victim’s direct supervisor, a manager of a different department, a co-worker, a contractor, or even a customer or other non-employee.
The harassing behavior could be in the form of “jokes” that are offensive, ethnic slurs, ridicule, insults, name calling, posting of offensive objects or pictures, or any other behaviors that directly interfere with the victim’s performance on the job.
Even if the insulting behavior was not directly aimed at the victim, but at someone else, they still may file a suit claiming that those behaviors offended them. Perhaps repeated discussions at work were racially inappropriate, but all workers present were of the same race. One of those workers can still make a claim that the continued racial commentary was offensive and was causing him or her to feel uncomfortable in the work environment.
When the harassment is pointedly directed at the victim, it can cause even more discomfort when trying to figure out how to report the behaviors. If your harasser is your direct manager or boss, you may feel afraid to bring it up to them for fear of losing your job or suffering penalties at work. However, there are also anti-retaliation laws in place to protect victims’ rights. No worker may be penalized in any way for reporting harassment or discriminatory behaviors in the workplace. No employee may be fired, demoted, or punished through difficult schedules or unsavory jobs over anyone else because they brought to light workplace harassment practices.
How to Begin a Workplace Harassment Claim
It can be difficult to prove workplace harassment because some of the behaviors may be minor, short-lived, or not witnessed by others. However, one of the best practices to prove a workplace harassment case is to document every offensive or intimidating act or comment that you can remember. Write down what was done or said and include the date, location in the workplace and who else was present for corroboration. Also include what work responsibilities you were doing at the time or immediately following the behavior. If you were feeling shaken or upset, document how those feelings affected your ability to perform your job functions.
Repeat this documentation process with each and every act or comment, even if they are perpetrated by different individuals. Doing so can help you prove a pattern of accepted harassment practices in the workplace and will go far to showing that you are not being overly sensitive in feeling offended.
The most difficult part of pursuing a workplace harassment claim can be in bringing it up directly to your harasser. If you have to bring legal action, you must first show that you have attempted to resolve the issue on your own. A discussion with the person or group of people who are causing your discomfort can be tough, but you must make it known that the harassing behaviors are not welcome. Tell your harassers that what they have said or done offends you or makes you feel threatened. Ask them to stop.
If you use email in the workplace, and prefer written to verbal confrontation, that email record can also serve as documented proof that you did bring up the offensive behaviors and asked that they cease. If you get any kind of reply to your email, save it for further documentation that the other party was made aware and ignored your request. Add documentation of these conversations to your list of incidents when you file your claim.
Next, decide where you are most comfortable reporting the harassment. If you have a good relationship with your boss or supervisor, report the harassment to them. If you are more comfortable going directly to Human Resources, contact your HR representative and schedule a meeting. You do not even have to state the reason for the meeting if you prefer to keep it quiet. Most companies have specific protocols in place for how they handle discrimination and harassment complaints.
Allow your company or workplace enough time to receive your complaint and act upon it. Then, if you are unsatisfied with the way your employer has handled your complaint, or the behaviors do not stop, you may wish to contact an employment attorney.
Once an employment lawyer is involved, they will file a formal claim of workplace harassment or discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC will begin an investigation of the employer and will examine the entire record from the conduct itself, including the context, to the histories of the victim, the harassers and how the employer handled any initial complaints. Based on this investigation, the EEOC will determine if the harassment is considered severe enough to be illegal and if the employer can be held liable.
Don’t Stay Quiet and Continue to Endure Workplace Harassment
Discrimination and workplace harassment are illegal. Whether you have been directly harassed, or you have witnessed harassment at your workplace toward others, stand up for the victims. Speak out against harassers. Report illegal activity to your employer. When all else fails, seek legal representation from an experienced employment attorney in your area.
If you cannot find an employment attorney local to you, contact our National Network of Employment Lawyers and let us seek out the right match. You need your job to provide for your family. No one should feel threatened or intimidated at work. Call us today to find the right legal representation for you.