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When does harassment become unlawful?

On Behalf of | Oct 6, 2023 | Sexual Harassment, Workplace Discrimination |

Anyone can experience harassment in the workplace, ranging from subtle to severe forms of hostility. Federal, state, and local employment laws usually prohibit this type of discrimination, when it is based on an employee’s gender, race, age, disability, or other protected status. Even mild examples of harassment are unwelcome at work because they create a problematic work environment, potentially affecting all employees.

Harassment can also be unlawful if it meets specific conditions, including the following:

  • The harassment becomes an enduring condition accompanying the victim’s employment; or
  • The misconduct is severe enough to make the workplace intimidating or hostile, reasonably impacting the employee adversely.

If the incidents in the workplace meet these conditions, they could be illegal, necessitating disciplinary or legal action. Occasional misconduct causing annoyance and disturbance may be worth reporting, but it might not be unlawful. In these instances, employees can file internal complaints for harassment, giving employers the chance to address the issue based on the company’s existing policy.

Additionally, employees should know what harassment can look like. As an example, a supervisor might abuse their authority and harass others even if their behavior does not go against any laws. In this situation, employees can report the incident even if the hostility does not target them.

Collaborating to combat harassment at work

Ultimately, combating harassment in the workplace requires a collaborative effort between employers and employees. Some offensive behavior can be as typical as inappropriate slurs and jokes, while others are more obvious, such as violent threats and intimidation. Employers can initiate preventative programs throughout the organization. Still, only employees can witness and report incidents that are unknown to HR and management.

Companies should have an efficient process for reporting complaints and grievances to catch harassment incidents, nipping them in the bud. Reporting harassment is encouraged in the workplace, especially in unlawful instances based on federal, state, or local employment laws.

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