Harassment at work based on any protected characteristic is illegal - not just sexual harassment. For example, making fun of a disabled employee because of his or her disability or making life difficult for the disabled employee could constitute harassment. Anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim slurs may constitute harassment. A supervisor trying to convert another employee or trying to persuade her to attend her church might constitute harassment. Even conduct aimed at others may contribute to a legally recognized hostile environment under harassment law.
Racial slurs directed against an African American or Hispanic worker might violate harassment laws. For example, in one notorious case, prison guards used highly offensive racial epithets, circulated racially offensive cartoons and jokes and locked minority guards out of the restrooms. Rejecting the employer's position that the conduct was merely sporadic, the court found that the employer could be held liable for allowing a racially hostile workplace environment.
Harassment at work must be sufficiently pervasive or severe to alter the employee's conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment. To determine whether a work environment is abusive, harassment lawyers and courts consider the frequency of the complained-of conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.
If you have suffered harassment at work, our harassment lawyers can assist you in a strategy to obtain relief.
Many employees who suffer harassment at work are reluctant to report such conduct for fear of retaliation. Unfortunately, this fear is all too often well-founded. If the employer provides a complaint procedure, and taking advantage of that procedure would not subject the employee to "undue risk, expense or humiliation," it is often in the employee's best interest to make a complaint. Failure to make a complaint may limit damages or bar a claim completely in some circumstances. Failing to report harassment prior to suing may be excused where the harassed employee knows the employer had a record of failing to act appropriately in response to such complaints or of retaliating against the victims.
If there is an uninvolved manager or Human Resources manager to whom you can bring a complaint, it probably makes sense to do so. You may well obtain the relief from harassment you are looking for, or, if not, you will preserve your claim should you decide to sue. It is best to make a written complaint, even if you present it in a meeting in which you also make a verbal complaint. Then there can be no dispute later over whether you made a complaint or not.
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