Sexual harassment may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "harassment," but federal and state laws are more encompassing. These laws make the employer of 15 or more people responsible for a hostile-free workplace, devoid of discrimination and harassment. To prevent harassment, most employers create an employee handbook that addresses the behavior. Handbooks typically include a policy on the employer's stance against harassment, definitions, procedures for reporting it, the investigation steps and the disciplinary measures the employer takes against it.
State and federal laws define anti-discriminatory behavior as harsh and continuous unwelcome conduct or behavior against people protected under these laws. The person doesn't have to be the victim of the conduct, but can be an offended bystander. Anti-discrimination protection includes unwelcome advances or offensive comments, jokes or slurs to or about a person because of her age, gender identity, sex, race, color, country of origin, religious beliefs, disability, genetic information or gender identity.
Verbal and Written Warnings
The laws don't consider an isolated event as a cause for a person to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but your employer might consider any harassment event seriously. How each business organization structures its employment policies, procedures and punishments differs. The procedures for punishment after investigation listed by your employer typically include verbal and written warnings for first-time or one-time events. Punishments increase with the severity of the harassment.
Courses, Classes or Counseling
The nature of the harassing offense might be ignorance. A company's punishment for harassment, depending on the severity of the event, might have a person participate in courses, classes or counseling to learn more about this offensive behavior. The punishment a person receives might come as a result of a grievance or a board hearing depending on the procedures established by the organization. Before such punishment happens, employers usually conduct an investigation to make certain the harassment occurred.
Severe occurrences usually result in termination. The organization that stands behinds its policies that also wants to avoid penalties, fines or a lawsuit might terminate the employee who continues to be offensive. Because the laws define harassment as ongoing and severe, the person who ignores the organization's rules about harassment could easily find himself without a job.
Charges and Lawsuits
The nature of the harassment could also result in civil or criminal charges being filed or a personal lawsuit in some states. California and Massachusetts, for example, have made it possible for people who are victims of harassment to sue co-workers who continue to harass them.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- Society of Human Resource Management: What Are The California Rules Regarding Workplace Harassment, And How Do They Differ From Federal Law?
- Berea College: Employee Handbook -- Harassment Policy and Procedure
- Associated Industries of Massachusetts: Court Opens Door for Employees to Sue Co-Workers Over Harassment
- KM&M: New California Law Permits Co-Workers to Sue One Another for Workplace Harassment
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.