Guest Author - Dianne Walker
Whether you are a supervisor, manager or front line employee, dealing with harassment in the workplace is never easy. Identifying true harassment is often difficult because it is usually based on the perception of the person who feels that they are being harassed. Harassment can take on many forms so it is important to understand the definition and various forms of harassment.
Harassment is one of the most common workplace complaints. Fortunately federal law has set the groundwork on what can actually be considered harassment. Most companies, however, have set the bar at an even higher level than required by law. The courts, allowing for the stricter company policies, will allow for the discipline of an employee for harassment even though a law may not have been broken. Therefore unfortunately for the offended employee, “offensive behavior” is not against the law.
When reporting harassment, it’s important to keep in mind that the law does not cover “general harassment”. What Federal law really prohibits is the harassment of protected classes. This includes harassment based on the following: sex or gender, age (against those over 40), race and color, religion, national origin, physical disability, citizenship or family medical leave. Defining harassment due to sex includes: sexual, gender, same-sex or pregnancy.
What happens if your employer requests sexual favors in order for you to get a promotion? Quid Pro Quo is the term used to define this type of harassment. In order to file for harassment, however, you must prove that the harassment had an impact on your job. For example, if you were laid off as result of declining your employer’s advances.
Many employees will often define their workplace as a hostile work environment. In order to claim harassment, however, it is necessary to define an illegal hostile environment. Offensive behavior, though disturbing, does not constitute a hostile environment. Four key factors must be present to properly define it as hostile. First, the tone and nature of the offense must be discriminatory or sexually harassing. The harassment must be based on one of the protected classes included above. Second, you must show that you did not encourage the behavior. Third, you must prove that the harassment was severe enough to affect your work performance. Finally, you must prove that management was unresponsive to your complaint.
The definition of harassment is specific and detailed in nature based on federal law. Employers often prohibit harassment based on an even wider definition then federal law. This is to make sure that the company is protected against lawsuits. It is important that you find out your company policy on harassment.