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What Constitutes Harassment in the Workplace?

Workplace harassment is a violation of both state law and federal law including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  When someone is victimized by harassment, the person who is harmed can file a civil lawsuit to seek remedies.  A complaint may also be made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who can conduct an investigation and who can help employees who are harmed by harassment to recover compensation and to get reinstated. workplace harassment

It is important for both employers and employees to understand what constitutes harassment in the workplace.  An experienced Irvine, CA business law attorney can provide guidance and advice on the legal definition of harassment and on the consequences which can result when harassment is occurring.  Brown & Charbonneau, LLP has extensive experience in harassment cases and can provide the legal guidance that you need to be informed of your rights and obligations under anti-harassment laws.

What is the Definition of Harassment in the Workplace?

Employees are protected from harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, and color. Gender, race, religion, national origin, race, and color are all considered protected statuses. On the state level in California, there are additional protections for harassment based on sexual orientation, but these protections do not exist nationally and there is no federal law providing protection specifically for LGBT individuals.  Federal laws including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also establish that seniors and the disabled are members of protected classes.

Illegal harassment in the workplace, therefore, encompasses any behaviors in which someone is treated differently or subject to harassing behavior because of race, religion, national origin, gender, color, sexual orientation, age, or disability status.

Types of Harassment in the Workplace

There are two primary types of harassment in the workplace that can occur: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment is the type of harassment that most people think of when they think of sexual harassment. It involves a supervisor or someone in a position of authority engaging in inappropriate behavior like offering someone a promotion in exchange for sexual favors or threatening to fire someone for not responding to sexual advances.  Companies can always be held responsible for quid pro quo harassment, and can be forced to compensate victims for any money lost due to the harassment, as well as for emotional distress and other losses that result from the inappropriate behavior.

Hostile work environment is also a type of harassment in the workplace that is prohibited. This type of harassment occurs whenever someone is made uncomfortable as a result of his or her protected status. The harassment can be perpetrated by co-workers or even subordinates, and the company can still be held responsible if it does not take action to step in and stop the inappropriate behavior. Claims of hostile work environment, for example, could be made if a woman works in an environment where the men around her repeatedly send sexually suggestive jokes via email and make inappropriate comments about females in the office.

Any time an employee’s work environment is uncomfortable and a reasonable person would recognize the harassing behavior as creating a hostile work environment, the employee should report the harassment. If an employer does not have a grievance procedure in place and/or does not take complaints seriously, the company can be sued by the harassed employee for damages.

To learn more about lawsuits arising from workplace harassment and to get help from an Irvine employment lawyer with experience in harassment cases, call Brown & Charbonneau, LLP today.