No person should have to work in an unsafe or hostile work environment. Harassment is a form of employment discrimination.
The harasser can be anyone in the workplace, even a non-employee, such as customers or vendors. Furthermore, any employee who is affected by the harassment or hostile work environment can pursue a legal claim, even if they are not the primary target of the harassment.
What constitutes harassment?
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, gender (including gender identity, gender stereotypes, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
Harassment becomes unlawful when the conduct is severe or persistent enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment.
Some examples of offensive conduct that may create a hostile work environment include:
- Discriminatory slurs, jokes, or comments;
- Physical assault, obscene gestures, threats, bullying, or intimidation;
- Offensive objects, pictures, drawings, cartoons, or symbols;
- Interference with work performance; and
- Any other verbal or physical conduct that is discriminatory.
Keep in mind, isolated incidents (unless extremely serious), minor annoyances, petty jokes, or teasing typically do not rise to the level of illegal conduct.
When is your employer liable for harassment?
Your employer is automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, suspension, or failure to promote or hire you. If the harassment results in a hostile work environment, your employer can avoid liability if it can prove that it took reasonable steps to prevent and correct the harassing behavior and that you unreasonably failed to take any preventative measures, such as reporting the harassment to your employer.
Furthermore, in some situations, your employer will also be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control, such as independent contractors, vendors, or customers on the premises.
If your employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take steps to correct the conduct, then your employer will be liable. Accordingly, many employers have anti-harassment policies and provide employees with a procedure for reporting harassment.
What should you do?
If you feel safe to do so, you may tell the harasser directly that their conduct is unwelcome and ask them to stop. At the very least, it is important to not give the impression that you are “okay” with the harassment—for example, by laughing it off or stating that you are “fine.”
Also, check your employer’s handbook or policy guidelines to determine the proper procedure for reporting the harassment. Usually, you are required to report any issues to a supervisor, management, or human resources. You should put your employer on notice that the harassment is taking place, so that your employer can take the necessary steps to address and try to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, despite laws that protect employees from retaliation, your employer may still take a negative employment action against you for reporting the harassment.
For this reason, is a good idea to keep a personal record of each incident of harassment with the date and a summary of the conduct that took place. If you have any documents, such as emails or texts, make sure to print or save them somewhere you can access them outside of your work computer or work phone. Also, if you are able, you may consider recording conversations—but make sure to check your state’s laws on making recordings. Georgia is a one-party consent state, which means you may record audio or take a video of any conversation if you are a party to the conversation and without obtaining permission or letting the other participants know. There are other steps you can take to protect yourself. But you do not have to do it alone. We are here for you.
Because your work matters.