Combating Workplace Harassment
While not everyone looks forward to going to work every day of the week, the workplace is supposed to be a safe place. Employees of all businesses and establishments, from fast-food restaurants to huge corporations, need to be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness. When these expectations are breached, it is uncomfortable or even scary. Plus, workplace harassment is illegal, and grounds for a personal injury case.
What is Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment is generally defined as belittling or threatening behavior that occurs in the workplace, directed at a specific individual or a group of individuals.
Workplace harassment is often sexual. Sexual harassment includes inappropriate grabbing or touching, lewd remarks in relation to gender, or offering promotions or perks in exchange for sexual favors.
However, harassment does not have to be sexual to be harmful and hurtful. Other types of harassment occur because of someone’s
- Country of origin
- Physical or mental disabilities
- Sexual identity
- Marital status
Types of workplace harassment can include:
- Telling off-color or offensive jokes about a specific group of people
- The usage of offensive terms to describe a person or group of people
- Commenting on physical appearance
- Displaying sexual, racial, or otherwise insensitive pictures
- Hostile physical contact
Additionally, harassment may arise from situations that involve promotions, workplace benefits, or workplace activities. For example, if an employer made a religious event a mandatory aspect of employment, this might go against an employee’s personal beliefs. Asking an employee to do anything against their beliefs or wishes in exchange for a promotion or preferential treatment is also workplace harassment.
Oftentimes, the person committing the workplace harassment may brush off their behavior as just a joke, or claim that it’s a result of friendly office banter. However, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), someone’s behavior is classified as unlawful workplace harassment when:
- Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a prerequisite to continue employment
- The conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider the workplace intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
- A supervisor’s harassment results in an obvious change in the employee’s salary or status
Along with creating a hostile work environment, workplace harassment can also take a toll on an employee’s health and well-being. Harassment may lead to anxiety, depression, or other personal health issues, which have an effect on a person’s everyday wellbeing. If an employee suffers in an unsafe environment, or gets fired due to their beliefs or identity, they may experience a loss of wages and other strains.
8 out of every ten Americans believe that workplace harassment is a problem, but only 1 in every 10 of those people believe that workplace harassment would happen at their own office. Unfortunately, workplace harassment is more prevalent than many people believe. According to a 2019 survey:
- 45% of respondents reported seeing witness the harassment of a coworker
- 32% of employees said they had been harassed at work
- 17% said the harassment came from someone outside of their workplace, like a vendor or client
- In 78% of all cases of workplace harassment, the harasser was male
- 53% of respondents did not report their workplace harassment
- 46% of employees said that fear of retaliation kept them from reporting their harassment
Proving Workplace Harassment – Rights & Responsibilities
Identifying and Preventing Workplace Harassment
If you are subjected to workplace harassment or a toxic workplace environment, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
- Check to see if your employer has an anti-harassment policy. If so, follow the steps in the policy to address the situation, and file a complaint if you have the option to do so.
- Talk directly to a supervisor about the behavior you are experiencing, and ask for their help in putting an end to the workplace harassment. You can talk to your own supervisor, but also to the supervisor of the person who is harassing you, or any supervisor within your organization who you feel comfortable with.
- If your business has a human resources (HR) department, talk to them about the harassment you are experiencing
When you are experiencing workplace harassment, it can be hard to speak up. You might be worried that your harasser will find out and increase their toxic behavior, or that you will be reprimanded for speaking up. However, federal laws protect you for retaliation or punishment for addressing harassment in the workplace. It is your right to report or oppose harassment, and your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for doing so.
Employers can also work to prevent workplace harassment. To prevent and address any type of workplace harassment, employers can take steps such as:
- Having a clear, zero-tolerance anti-harassment policy and making sure all employees are aware of the policy by including it in an employee handbook, putting up reminders in prominent places around the office, and bringing it up at meetings or events where all employees are in attendance
- Creating specialized training for managers and supervisors on how to recognize, address, and prevent workplace harassment
- Ensuring that all employees are aware of their rights when it comes to workplace harassment, and making sure that know what to do if they experience workplace harassment
- Promoting a healthy, zero-tolerance workplace culture
- Acting quickly and appropriately to address issues or concerns
- Knowing the signs of workplace harassment, like an employee seeming distressed or withdrawn
However, sometimes employers do not take the correct steps to address workplace harassment. When this happens, even after you take all the steps to address your workplace harassment, your next option may be filing a workplace harassment claim with the assistance of an experienced workplace harassment attorney.
It is important to note that before attempting to file a claim about your workplace harassment, you file an internal complaint. If you make a complaint and nothing changes, correspondence serves as evidence. Before filing a lawsuit, you must also file an administrative charge with the EEOC. If they file a lawsuit without this step, the lawsuit gets thrown out.
If addressing the harassment issues does not create a better environment, or leads to worse treatment or termination, then you should consider seeking the help of an attorney to file a lawsuit. An attorney can see you through the next steps, including:
- Gathering documentation about your workplace harassment, like communications between you and your HR department or a log of times that you were harassed at work
- Investigating your claim
- Negotiation to help you find compensation and justice for the harm you experienced in your workplace environment
A workplace harassment attorney will also be familiar with Florida’s specific workplace harassment laws, and can help you address specific issues related to your harassment
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.