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Young woman experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace from a male colleague

What Constitutes Harassment?

It is never okay to feel like you are being mistreated at your job. However, not all mistreatment is considered harassment.

Read on to learn more about what legally constitutes harassment.

The U.S. Government’s Definition of Harassment

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on:”

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
    • Including:
      • Sexual orientation
      • Gender identity
      • Pregnancy
  • National origin
  • Older age
    • Beginning at age 40
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
    • Including family medical history

Additionally, harassment is illegal when:

  • Putting up with the harmful behavior becomes an element of continued employment, or
  • The behavior is significant or unrelenting enough to produce a work environment that a reasonable individual would consider:
    • Intimidating,
    • Hostile, or
    • Abusive.

The Law Prohibits Retaliation

Anti-discrimination laws do not allow retaliation harassment against those who:

  • File a discrimination charge,
  • Testify,
  • Participate in:
    • An investigation in any way,
    • A proceeding,
    • A lawsuit, or
  • Resist employment practices they reasonably believe discriminate against people, in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

Unfortunately, Not All Workplace Mistreatment is Unlawful

The following minor incidents do not typically constitute harassment:

  • Petty slights
  • Annoyances
  • Isolated incidents (unless highly significant)

In order to be considered illegal, the behavior needs to produce a work environment that is:

  • Intimidating,
  • Hostile, or
  • Offensive to reasonable people.

Behavior that offends others and is disruptive to work performance can include (but isn’t limited to):

  • Offensive jokes,
  • Slurs,
  • Epithets,
  • Name-calling,
  • Physical assaults,
  • Threats,
  • Intimidation,
  • Ridicule,
  • Mockery,
  • Insults,
  • Put-downs, or
  • Offensive objects or images.

There are several ways that harassment can occur, including (but not limited to):

  • The victim’s perpetrator of harassment may be their supervisor, a supervisor in another department, an employer’s agent, a colleague, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not personally have to experience the harassment but may bear witness to it and be impacted as a result of the offensive behavior.
  • The victim does not need to be economically affected in order for harassment to be considered unlawful.

Sexual Harassment

According to the EEOC, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person's sex. Harassment can include "sexual harassment" or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

However, it’s important to keep in mind that harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature. Instead, it can include offensive remarks regarding a person’s sex. For instance, it is unlawful to harass a woman by making derogatory remarks about women in general.

Both the victim and harasser can be of any sex, either the same or different.

The law does not prohibit the following behaviors:

  • Simple teasing
  • Offhand remarks
  • Minor isolated incidents

Harassment only becomes unlawful when it is so pervasive or significant that it causes the work environment to become hostile or offensive or when an unfavorable employment decision is made as a result of the harassment (such as the victim being terminated or demoted).

A sexual harasser can be:

  • The victim’s supervisor
  • A supervisor in a different department
  • A colleague
  • A person not employed with the company (such as a client or customer)

If you have endured sexual harassment in your workplace, you don’t have to put up with it. The law is on your side to protect you against offensive individuals so that you can feel comfortable and safe going to work each day.

Our team is highly skilled in the area of sexual harassment law and we have helped many other people in similar situations obtain the justice they deserved. We want to see that justice is served for you too. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our experienced team right away to learn more about how we can help with your case.

Contact our team of skilled attorneys today with the details of your case by calling (800) 543-4829 or by filling out the online contact form.

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