To me, one of the more frustrating aspects of HR is dealing with harassment in the workplace. Why people can’t just focus on doing their jobs without needing to harass a co-worker or direct report is simply incomprehensible to me.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967, and the American Disabilities Act of 1990 define illegal workplace harassment when based on race, color, creed, ancestry, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, military service, disability, being over age 40, and arrest or conviction record.
Historically, sexual claims have been the main focus of most harassment claims but other forms of harassment are becoming more prevalent and employers are being held more accountable by the EEOC for all forms of unlawful harassment.
Sexual Harassment: Federal courts have consistently ruled that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. The EEOC guidelines are available here.
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Hostile, Abusive and Degrading Behavior: Even though the workplace might be a hostile and abusive environment, it is only illegal if based on one of the protected categories listed above. This harassment consists of verbal abuse, ridicule, mockery, insults, derogatory or sexually explicit language, swearing, displaying offensive visual materials, and/or telling offensive jokes.
The EEOC recommends the following for an effective harassment prevention policy:
- Clearly explain the prohibited conduct
- Be in writing in plain language so that employees can easily understand
- Protect those who complain from retaliation
- Assure confidentiality for those who bring complaints
- Clearly explain and describe complaint procedure
- Ensure investigative procedure is prompt, thorough, and impartial
- Assure immediate and appropriate corrective action
- Provide periodic training to supervisors and employees