With the rise of the #MeToo movement, workplace harassment issues have gained significant visibility in the media. Unfortunately, workplace harassment is not new, and navigating the complaint process internally can be daunting due to fear of retaliation.
Sylvia Stanciu, an employment attorney with Phillips & Associates in New York, has put to together a guide to help you identify some of the most common forms of workplace harassment and how to address these issues effectively.
1. Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is one of the most widespread forms of workplace harassment, and also one of the most impactful to an employee’s work environment. Whether it is subtle, like unwanted compliments, or more severe, like unwanted touching, sexual harassment is illegal.
More examples of workplace harassment include unwelcome sexual advances, sharing sexual photos and videos, sexual comments and jokes, inappropriate sexual gestures, inappropriate sexual touching, and posting sexually-charged imagery in the workplace.
The power dynamic between an employee in a supervisory role and a subordinate can put pressure on an employee to submit to sexual advances or “play along” with the behavior. However, being pressured to exchange sexual favors for job advancement or other perks is called quid pro quo sexual harassment, and it is unlawful.
If you are sexually harassed at work, it is essential to immediately complain to your employer and/or Human Resources in order to try and stop the harassment (provided you do not have a form of retaliation).
If the harassment continues or your employer happens to be your harasser, or you for retaliation if you do not complain, you should contact an attorney for a legal consultation. You may have a legitimate claim for sexual harassment.
2. Racial Harassment
Racial harassment can severely alter an employee’s ability to succeed at work. Racial harassment is often coupled with discrimination based on national origin, color, or ethnic hairstyle. For example, stereotypical comments about an employee’s race and skin tone or offensive jokes about a certain ethnic and racial group can constitute a form of racial harassment.
An employer’s refusal to promote the employees of a certain racial or ethnic group because of hostility against that group also constitutes a form of race discrimination in the workplace. Employees must be free to advance in the workplace regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds.
If you believe you have been the target of racial insults at work, you should document the incidents and make a complaint to your employer and/or Human Resources representative. If the comments continue, you should contact an attorney to discuss your options.
3. Disability Harassment
Employment laws also protect employees from workplace harassment based on their actual and/or perceived disability. For example, a supervisor or coworker cannot make jokes or offensive gestures mocking employees who are disabled, or who appear to be disabled.
If you need a particular kind of workplace accommodation, such as time off to go to doctor’s appointments or a standing desk to avoid chronic back pain, you should speak to your employer and/or the Human Resources department about reasonable accommodation.
You may have to support your request with medical documentation, and you should reasonably cooperate with your employer’s requests. If your employer refuses to give you a reason for refusing to grant your request for an accommodation, you should contact an attorney and discuss your possible legal recourse.
4. Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying is hard to define because it includes a broad range of behaviors that are offensive but may not be discriminatory. For example, workplace bullying includes rude and disrespectful comments, intimidation tactics, ostracizing behavior, humiliating requests, and body shaming. Even if these behaviors may not be discriminatory on their own, they can contribute to a hostile work environment.
If someone at work is harassing you in these ways, you can make a complaint to your employer and/or Human Resources and contact New York Employment Discrimination Lawyers. But note, to have a viable claim of bullying, the behavior has to be based on your gender, race, national origin, religion, disability, and other protected classes under federal and state laws.
5. Workplace Violence
Workplace violence is another form of workplace harassment. It is important to learn your employer’s safety procedures as soon as possible, such as the locations of cameras. Physical harassment at the workplace includes shoving, kicking, hitting, destroying your colleague’s property, threatening behavior like shaking your fists angrily, and directing threats of violence to coworkers.
If an incident of workplace violence occurs, it should be documented immediately, and all the witnesses to the incident should be questioned as soon as possible after the incident. If the incident could rise to the level of criminal liability, the employee and/or the employer should call the police.
But note, to have a viable claim of workplace violence in a civil lawsuit, the behavior has to be based on your gender, race, national origin, religion, disability, and other protected classes under federal and state laws.
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