Have you been a victim of harassment in the workplace? Has a superior or coworker ever placed you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable or discriminated against? Do you feel that you are working in a hostile environment? If so, you may have grounds for a workplace harassment lawsuit.
Harassment is defined as inappropriate physical or verbal conduct directed at an unwilling participant. Unfortunately, workplace harassment, especially sexual harassment, is very common, even though the law forbids it.
If you have previously experienced or are currently experiencing harassment in the workplace, you have legal options, including the right to file a harassment claim against those responsible for committing and/or permitting inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
To determine whether the harassment you have experienced is a violation of harassment laws, you will need to speak with an employment attorney. Attorneys specializing in employment law work to ensure that those victimized by workplace harassment are heard and, in many cases, receive compensation for their pain and suffering.
Workplace Harassment Situations
Harassment in the workplace is rooted in the physical or verbal conduct of coworkers or superiors. Inappropriate conduct involving race, religion, sex, nationality, age, disability (mental or physical), medical conditions, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation or even retaliation can be characterized as workplace harassment. You are protected by state and federal laws from being victimized by such situations when the inappropriate conduct is severe, ongoing, creates a hostile environment and/or affects your employment status.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there were 23,034 workplace harassment claims filed in 2006, totaling more than $59 million in settlement claims. The EEOC data shows the majority (12,025) were sexual harassment claims, accounting for approximately $48 million of the total settlement claims.
Sexual harassment is the most common form of workplace harassment. Some of the more common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:
- Inappropriate touching or body contact
- Sexually explicit jokes, gestures or materials
- The sending of sexually suggestive notes, emails or messages
- Offensive remarks made regarding an employee's appearance, clothing, body, etc.
According to the EEOC, the vast majority of sexual harassment claims are filed by females. However, the victim can be male or female and the harasser does not need to be of the opposite sex.
Filing Your Harassment Claim
The decision to file a workplace harassment claim can be overwhelming and stressful. Therefore, harassment laws are designed to make the filing process as easy and conflict-free as possible.
In order to file a harassment claim, you will likely need to meet with an employment lawyer, who will work with you to determine the exact nature and degree of harassment. Typically, a workplace harassment claim is filed as one of two types:
- Quid Pro Quo Harassment. If an employee is offered special treatment in exchange for some form of sexual gratification (advances, favors, behaviors, etc.), a quid pro quo harassment claim can be filed. Quid pro quo harassment usually involves an employer-employee relationship of some kind.
- Hostile Work Environment Harassment. If verbal or physical conduct fosters a situation that affects work performance or creates an uncomfortable, offensive, threatening or otherwise hostile work environment, a harassment claim can be filed. A hostile work environment harassment claim can be filed by those directly and indirectly affected by the inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
It is important to file your workplace harassment claim in a timely manner. If you delay filing your harassment claim, you may find it more difficult to make your case. You should compile records to pass along to your harassment attorney detailing the nature of the harassment, the number of times it occurred, when and where it occurred and those involved. Compiling an accurate record of events can make the difference between receiving compensation and not receiving compensation when it comes to investigating the incident and processing your claim.
If a coworker or coworkers are your harassers, you should consider approaching your supervisor as soon as possible with your records. If your supervisor is the source of your complaint, you can report the problem to his or her superior, or to your company's human resources department. Many people are hesitant to report a case of workplace harassment involving a supervisor because they fear losing their job. Fortunately, employment laws are designed to protect employees from such repercussions.
There are various forms of compensation available for victims of workplace harassment, the most common of which is monetary compensation. In cases of harassment resulting in wrongful termination, you may also seek reinstatement of employment.
In addition, if you feel that the harassment resulted from poor management or failed office policies, you can ask the court to impose sanctions on your company to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to correct the problem and prevent future cases of harassment.
Employers are responsible for the conduct and actions of their employees. It is their job to lead by example so that there is no confusion as to what constitutes harassment.
There are significant employer responsibilities associated with harassment in the workplace. It is for this reason that most businesses enforce a strict policy of appropriate conduct that workers must abide by, or face suspension or termination. This policy is typically enforced by a human resources department.
If harassment results in loss of wages, termination of contract, failure to promote/hire, etc., the employer is automatically deemed liable. If the employer knew (or should have known) about workplace harassment affecting subordinates and failed to address the situation, he or she may be considered liable.
There are certain situations in which the employer is not liable. For example, if the employer learned about a case of sexual harassment and attempted to take preventive measures, he or she may avoid liability. Similarly, if an employee fails to take advantage of measures provided by an employer to prevent harassment, the harassment claim may be dismissed.
Your Rights as a Victim of Workplace Harassment
Harassment in the workplace is against the law. If you have been or are currently being harassed at work, you have every right to take action immediately. Contact a harassment attorney to learn more about how to protect your civil rights and take the first step towards resolution.