What Type of Behavior Can Make an Employer Liable for Harassment?

February 14, 2019

It is never a good experience to be the target of harassment in the workplace. That experience becomes even worse when your employer is aware of the harassment you are being subjected to and fails to address it.

Every employee should know the rights and protections afforded to them by the law.  One of those protections is to ensure you a work environment free from harassment and hostility.

Nonetheless, employees should know that not every type of “harassing” behavior qualifies as harassment under the law. The purpose of this blog is to inform employees when that line of harassment has been crossed and when your employer be liable for failing to rectify it.

What Is Harassment? And When Is It Illegal?

In terms of the law, harassment is defined as any unwelcome conduct that is directed towards someone because of that person’s race, gender, color, religion sex, ethnicity, age or disability. Furthermore, harassment also addresses unwelcome conduct that is directed towards a woman because she is pregnant.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. “ It is not uncommon for an employee to be subjected to harassment and be unaware that it is happening. Unwelcome conduct is a broad term that encompasses many different actions that are unwelcome. Whether it be offensive and unwelcome jokes, racial slurs, threats, offensive objects or pictures, insults or even sabotage of an employee’s work performance.

On the other hand, the EEOC states that  “ Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”

Slight annoyances caused by a co-worker or supervisor are not considered illegal. Generally, harassment is present when it is repetitive and pervasive behavior that causes an employee to feel uncomfortable, intimidated or offended. This is a subjective standard. What causes one to feel uncomfortable or offended may not cause another to have those same feelings. If an employee feels that they are having to deal with offensive behavior in the workplace in order to keep their job then they may be a victim of harassment.

When Is an Employer Liable for Harassment?

Generally, an employer can be held liable when any of their employees harass another. Under the doctrine of vicarious liability, an employer can be held liable for the acts of any of its employees. Whether an employee is being harassed by their co-worker or supervisor, an employer has a duty to their employees to ensure a safe working environment. Furthermore, even if the harasser is a customer or a client of the business, the employer may be held liable if they were aware of the harassment and failed to take action to prevent it from continuing.

Employees are often  to be fearful of complaining or participating in an investigation because they are in fear of being retaliated against. Thankfully, the law also protects any employee who has a role in in discrimination charges in the workplace.  Whether the employee makes the complaint, testifies in court or participates in the investigation I nay way, the law protects them from retaliated against.

If an employee feels that they are being subjected to any form of harassment or discrimination on the basis of their race, gender, color, religion, sex(including pregnancy), ethnicity, age or disability in the workplace then they should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws governing harassment and discrimination are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice.  Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.