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Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment can refer to a wide spectrum of offensive behavior. The term commonly means, “Behavior that is intended to disturb or upset.” In a legal sense, harassment refers to behaviors that are found to be threatening or disturbing.

Harassment can take place at any time, under any circumstances, at any place. It can happen at school, church and even in your own home. However, the place where most people think of harassment is the workplace.

Laws prohibiting harassment in the workplace began in 1964, when the United States Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and sex. Title VII later became the legal basis for early harassment law. The practice of developing workplace guidelines prohibiting harassment was pioneered in 1969, when the U.S. Department of Defense drafted a Human Goals Charter, establishing a policy of equal respect for both sexes. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986): the U.S. Supreme Court recognized harassment suits against employers for promoting a sexually hostile work environment.

When you say the word “harassment,” the thing most people think about is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially extremely disadvantageous to the victim. It involves unwanted and unwelcome, words, deeds, actions, gestures, symbols or behaviors of a sexual nature that make the target feel uncomfortable. Gender and sexual orientation harassment fall into this family. It includes a range of behavior from seemingly mild transgressions and annoyances to actual sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Approximately 15,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year. Media and government surveys estimate the percentage of women being sexually harassed in the United States workplace at 40 to 60%. Although the majority of sexual harassment complaints come from women, the number of complaints filed by men is rapidly increasing. In 2007, 16% of the complaints filed with EEOC were by men. Of those claims, 11% involved men filing against female supervisors.

While most people think of harassment in terms of sexual harassment, there are many other forms of harassment. Some of these are:

  • Bullying – This may involve sexual or verbal harassment. It is usually psychological and physical harassing behavior directed against an individual by one or more people.
  • Stalking – The unauthorized surveillance and following of an individual, to the extent that the person's privacy is unacceptably intruded upon, and the victim fears for their safety.
  • Racial harassment – An individual is targeted because of their race or ethnicity. This type of harassment may include words, deeds or actions that are specifically designed to make the target feel degraded due to their race or ethnicity.
  • Psychological harassment – This involves humiliating or abusive behavior that lowers a person’s self-esteem or causes them torment. This can take the form of verbal comments, actions or gestures.
  • Religious harassment – Harassment that is aimed at an individual because they choose to practice a specific religion. This can be verbal, physical or psychological in nature. It may also include involuntary and forced conversions.
  • Discrimination – While you may not think of it in this way, discrimination is really a form of harassment. It is prejudicial treatment that may involve words, deeds or actions against an individual because of their race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

As you can see, harassment can take many forms. Harassment in the workplace is a serious, widespread problem across the United States.

What can be done about harassment in the workplace? How can it be stopped? How can it be prevented?

There are some things a company or business can do to stop harassment in the workplace. There are some steps that can be taken. Some of these steps are:

  • Preventing harassment begins with careful recruiting of employees. It means implementing recruitment guidelines that will minimize the risk of hiring individuals who either are harassers or have the propensity to become harassers.
  • Thorough orientation of new employees is a part of preventing harassment in the workplace. New employees should be made aware that harassment in any form will not be tolerated. 
  • It involves an awareness of the problem. For any business to do anything to prevent workplace harassment there has to be realization, awareness and acknowledgement that harassment is taking place in its workplace.
  • It must be made clear to all employees in an ongoing way that harassment in any form is against the law. It is a crime. This can be done with well-placed signs, posters and handbooks, as well as by other means.
  • Policies and procedures can be initiated that promote respect in the workplace.
  • There should be a complaint procedure. Steps should be clearly set out as to how to go about filing a complaint. The identity, role and responsibilities of the people involved in this procedure should also be clearly set forth.
  • Interviewing employees who are leaving your business can help a great deal. People who are leaving their positions are usually more candid about issues they experienced, observed or overheard during their employment.
  • Knowing that complaints will remain confidential is often the key in employees coming forward with a complaint. However, confidentiality can only be maintained to the extent possible to alleviate the harassment.
  • There have to be penalties for harassment in the workplace, but they must be flexible as each complaint comes with its own unique circumstances.

You may have more than a passing interest in harassment in the workplace. You may be a victim of workplace harassment.

What do you do now? Who can you turn to? Where do you go for help?

You may need the advice and representation of a legal professional. But, how do you choose the right lawyer for this situation?

Family lawyers and those who have a general law practice are great, but are they the right ones for you as you deal with harassment in the workplace? You need an attorney who knows and specializes in employment law. You need an attorney who works with employment cases every day. You need an employment attorney.
Employmentattorneyhome.com is the Web site where you will find an experienced employment attorney. Employmentattorneyhome.com is the place where you will find a skilled employment attorney.
Do not put this off. You need help now. Contact the caring employment attorney at Employmentattorneyhome.com, today.