Whether it happens online or in person, workplace harassment is an issue impacting many businesses in the United States, both big and small. Defined as belittling or threatening behavior directed at an individual worker or a group of workers, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal regulations, workplace harassment often goes unreported due to the fact that victims tend to be unsure of what qualifies as harassment in the work environment as well as what measures to take when it happens.
Workplace harassment can be physical or emotional and in the recent years, it has gained interest among the public as it has become one of the most sensitive areas in effective workplace management. As a result, signs of change have surfaced including the “Me Too” movement which brings awareness to sexual harassment.
When does a workplace qualify as being hostile?
Unfortunately, many people struggle with a hostile work environment, which prevents them from being in a positive and healthy work environment. A hostile workplace is one in which unwanted comments or behavior based on age, race, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender, religion or other legally protected characteristics interfere with an employee’s work, or create an intimidating or offensive work environment for the employee being harassed.
Such conduct can be created by a co-worker, supervisor or manager, client, vendor or visitor and it can seriously diminish an employee’s productivity and self-esteem both in and out the workplace.
There are many examples of a hostile workplace. Harassment in the work environment can range from offensive jokes, to insults, to physical or verbal threats to co-workers, to displaying offensive photographs, or simply obstructing someone else’s work during the day and it can be based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, pregnancy and more.
Harassment in the work environment is not an industry-specific problem, however some environments are worse. According to Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president of labor justice at the National Women’s Law Center, service-based industries, in which employers rely on tips and customer approval, can breed an environment of harassment. Reports have also indicated customer behavior can impact how supervisors treat their employees.
What to do if you or someone you know is a victim of harassment in the work environment?
If you think you or someone you know is being harassed in the workplace, do not ignore the problem. Studies show that people who harass others in the workplace do not stop just because their victim does not do anything about it. An important element of harassment claims is that the behavior must be “unwelcome,” so it is very important to make it clear to the harasser that you are uncomfortable and to stop the behavior.
One must also report the behavior. Although it can be scary and harmful, reporting is important because it gives the employer a chance to correct the problem, and if the behavior does not stop, you have proof that the employer is aware of the issue. Furthermore, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but it is advisable to be aware of the law to make sure that the incident really does count as harassment.
If staying at the workplace is unbearable, you also have the option of resigning from your job in a graceful and professional manner as it can potentially have legal consequences if you have filed a harassment claim. Tips on how to resign from your job include giving adequate notice to your supervisor and writing a formal resignation letter.
How to minimize harassment in the workplace?
Companies often invest in training to prevent harassment in the workplace and provide a safe working environment for their employees. Ways to minimize workplace harassment include writing a clear policy that describes the different forms of harassment with the help of a professional lawyer. Communicate the policy to the human resources department and other staff. Empower employees to speak up, take action when an employee complains of harassment and schedule regular training for both employees and supervisors so that they know how to identify, report and respond to harassment is key to prevention.
What are the different types of harassment in the work environment?
There are two main categories of unlawful workplace harassment that are illegal under state and federal law in the United States: quid pro quo harassment and harassment in a hostile work environment. Both types of harassment can be verbal, non-verbal or physical and can include a range of behaviors, including teasing, touching, winking and others. For more information, see here.
How do I know if I am receiving unlawful harassment in the work environment?
Harassment becomes unlawful when 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. For more information, see here.
How can I handle a hostile work environment?
Tips to managing a hostile work environment include finding an escape that allows you to get away from the negativity, find people you can trust at work while still protecting yourself, and seek help if needed. For more information, see here.