Protecting Your Job When You Are Harassed at Work
State and federal laws prohibit workplace harassment. Not only can harassment affect a worker’s emotional health and job performance, but it can also cost them their careers. Many people who experience harassment often encounter adverse actions like termination, unfavorable performance reviews, or denials of work opportunities and promotions on the job.
If you’re reading this page, you’re probably wondering whether you or someone you care about is being harassed at work. Let’s look at what kinds of behaviors constitute workplace harassment and what you can do to protect your job and your rights.
What Is Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment is a type of discriminatory conduct that demeans or shows hostility towards an employee based on a protected characteristic, such as their race, color, religious beliefs, sex, gender, national origin, age, or disability.
Harassment may be verbal, psychological, visual, physical, or sexual. It often takes the form of offensive jokes or pictures, name-calling, ridicule, intimidation, threats, assaults, and interference with an employee’s ability to do their job.
Defining Unlawful Harassment
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, unwelcome conduct is unlawful when an employee must endure the offensive behavior to remain employed, or when the conduct is objectively severe or pervasive enough that another reasonable person would find it to be abusive, hostile, or intimidating.
Essentially, the behaviors constitute harassment when it creates a hostile work environment, unreasonably interferes with the work performance of the targeted employee or anyone else affected by the conduct, or adversely impacts the individual’s employment opportunities (e.g., work assignments, pay raises, or promotions).
Two Types of Unlawful Harassment
Workplace harassment generally falls into two categories: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.
Quid pro quo harassment involves a person in a position of some authority offering or suggesting a work benefit to an employee based on whether they accept or reject unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Employment decisions that can lead to quid pro quo harassment include pay raises, promotions, demotions, transfers, work assignments, and termination.
Hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome actions make the workplace hostile, intimidating, or offensive to the targeted employee. A hostile work environment may be created by a co-worker, supervisor, contractor, customer, or any person with whom the harassed employee interacts while performing their job duties.
Examples of behaviors that can create a hostile work environment include:
- Offensive comments or “jokes” regarding race, national origin, religion, sex, gender, age, or disability
- Discussing sexual activity or displaying sexually suggestive materials
- Displaying or sharing offensive or insensitive photos, video, drawings, or other materials
- Unwanted touching
- Comments on a person’s physical attributes
- Indecent gestures or crude language
- Use of demeaning language or epithets
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment involves any conduct that relates in some way to an individual’s sex or gender. An individual may engage in sexual harassment by:
- Making comments of a sexual or sexually suggestive nature
- Making unwelcome sexual advances
- Requesting sexual favors
- Discussing sexual behavior or sexual history
- Making sexual contact, including touching an individual’s intimate parts, reaching beneath a victim’s clothing, or any other touching intended to be sexually gratifying to the harasser or the victim
Both men and women can be victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment. It can also occur between two people of the same sex or gender. It’s important to know that victims do not need to be the direct target of harassment to have a legal claim. They could also be someone who was affected by the harasser’s conduct.
What to Do If You Are Being Harassed
Here’s what to do if you’re struggling with workplace harassment:
- Keep detailed documentation of the harassment. Preserve copies of relevant emails, text messages, voicemails, other documents, and materials. Also, keep a record of in-person interactions and unwelcome conduct that
- Try talking it out. If the harassment is non-physical and nonviolent, consider trying to resolve the situation by calmly discussing the problem with the harasser privately. They honestly may not realize they are offending you. Ask them to stop, and document the date of the talk.
- Report the conduct to a manager or Human Resources (HR) department. If a direct resolution with the harasser fails or you feel uncomfortable approaching the harasser, report the problem immediately. If the harasser is your manager, go directly to HR.
- Get advice from an experienced employment lawyer. When attempts to stop harassment through internal channels at your workplace fail, talk to an employment lawyer. An attorney can help you pursue formal legal channels to report workplace harassment by notifying the Arizona Attorney General’s Office or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
What to Do If You Witness Workplace Harassment
You can help if you observe conduct that could be unlawful in the workplace. Consider taking these steps:
- Keep your own records. If you see co-workers experiencing harassment, try to document the offensive conduct by keeping copies of communications you are included in and taking notes about the improper behavior you witnessed.
- Avoid confronting the harasser directly. A confrontation could result in further retaliation against the victim, or the harasser turning their conduct onto you. Instead, report your concerns to your supervisor. If the harassment is being perpetrated or permitted by upper management, go to your employer’s HR department.
Talk to an Employment Lawyer Today
Nobody should feel victimized at work. Fortunately, the law protects victims of workplace harassment by allowing them to file a legal claim seeking justice and compensation. Contact Matt Fendon Law Group today for a confidential consultation with a skilled Arizona employment lawyer.