Small-minded or prejudiced people perpetuate the idea that one group of people are better than others. In the workplace, these people often discriminate against their co-workers because of their looks, speech or country of origin. Underneath surface appearances, human beings belong to the same species, though they may come from any part of the world. People who refuse to realize this usually display inappropriate behavior toward those they deem unacceptable. The behavior often includes name-calling, put-downs, offensive jokes or other forms of harassment. This negative behavior, known as discrimination, is against federal and state laws -- especially at work.
Anybody at your workplace who habitually treats another person or a group of people as inferior because of their race, sex, color, age, religion, national origin, disability or genetic information violates federal civil rights laws. If you work for the federal government, this includes harassment for sexual orientation or gender-identity if a person is gay or transgendered under amended Executive Order 11478. When the discrimination becomes so pervasive that it disintegrates into rude jokes, intimidation or other forms of abuse, the individual being taunted, or any other reasonable person that finds the behavior threatening, has a right to sue her employer for allowing the behavior to continue. In some states, victims can also sue the employees who harass them right along with their employer.
Hostile Work Environment
Undisciplined or uncontrolled harassment contributes to a hostile work environment. An employer -- under Title VI of Civil Rights Act and subsequent amendments since then -- has a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy working environment for all employees. When you have to endure continual hostility at work -- from anyone -- and the work environment becomes abusive, these anti-discrimination laws protect you. This applies not only if you are the victim, but also if you contribute to the investigation as a witness. Any retaliation made against you for taking place in an investigation, testifying in a proceeding or court case, or participating in any way on behalf of the victim or yourself, constitutes a violation of harassment laws.
One-time or isolated events don't qualify as harassment under the law. It must be ongoing, rife or persistent to qualify. Trivial slights and provocations -- unless they become serious -- don't qualify under the Civil Rights Act. The harassment also doesn't have to affect you financially, or result in you being fired to be against the law. Any person who harasses you at work -- whether a co-worker, employer, supervisor, an employer's agent or even a nonemployee -- falls under the umbrella of anti-discrimination laws. This includes a company's vendors or any person that enters the workplace.
Employer Harassment Policy
Smart employers adopt anti-discrimination policies and procedures. They include a policy statement that supports their stance of workplace quality, respect and behavior toward employees. The policy pointedly points out unacceptable and inappropriate behavior. It usually also includes a statement on the illegality of retaliation. Procedures outline the disciplinary measures taken for those who violate a company's harassment policy, which includes an investigation into the event. Companies that adopt a harassment policy usually indicate no tolerance for this type of behavior at work. When you harass someone at work, depending on the state in which you live, you could be fired and lose your unemployment benefits.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Facts about Discrimination in Federal Government Employment Based on Marital Status, Political Affiliation, Status as a Parent, Sexual Orientation, or Transgender (Gender Identity) Status
- Federal Communications Commission: Understanding Workplace Harassment -- FCC Staff
- 3M: Business Conduct Policies
- U.S. Department of Labor: Policy Statement on Harassing Conduct in the Workplace
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: After You Have Filed a Charge
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Filing a Lawsuit
- Associated Industries of Massachusetts: Court Opens Door for Employees to Sue Co-Workers over 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.