Is it harassment, or is it just teasing?

It seems like everyday there are more and more reports of sexual harassment: professionals abusing their power to take what they want. As our awareness grows of the root problems (unchecked bullying, poor role models), we remain hopeful that our country will change to become a model of equality and respect, where the focus is not on what makes us ‘other’ but what makes us neighbors and colleagues and fellow Americans. Until that day, vigilance is required, and advocacy is necessary to give a voice to those who are still unrepresented, minimized, and oppressed.

offensive behavior in the workplaceLet’s look at the workplace. It isn’t uncommon to see offensive behavior in the workplace, whether that be guys joking among themselves, workers making fun of disabled or ‘different’ colleagues, or bosses taking the occasional unguarded gander at employees of the opposite sex.

What is classified as appropriate behavior in the workplace and what is classified as harassment? If you’ve been a victim of any of these situations, you should know your rights, especially since your rights are clearly defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

When Offensive Behavior in the Workplace = Harassment

To be able to properly diagnose offensive behavior in the workplace, it’s necessary to first outline what counts as harassment since, no matter the subject matter, it is cause for legal action.

  • What is harassment?
    “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
    Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.” (EEOC)
  • What circumstances does it happen in?
    • “The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
    • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
    • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.” (EEOC)

While this might be reassuring to read, remember that some employers might not uphold these standards, and their lawyers would then do their best to make sure that no claim can be upheld in a court of law, either by proving that you are not a ‘reasonable person’ or by minimizing the offensive workplace behavior. If you think you might have a claim, you can contact TMH Law for a free consultation. We believe in giving a voice to the voiceless.