Employment Harassment

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Questions I frequently get asked have to do with harassment.

A lot of times employees complain about their bosses harassing them. Well harassment in a legal sense has a very specific meaning. Generally harassing is swearing, intimidating and doing things that are annoying to a person. In the employment context an employer has a lot of latitude in terms of they way they treat employees. It doesn’t make good business sense but Emily Post manners are not required of employers.

When harassment crosses the line into a legal venue it involves some of the protected class statuses. So for example, under Federal Law, if harassment is focused on a person’s race, their color, their religion or beliefs, their national origin or ancestry, sex, age, physical or mental disability, their status as a veteran, their genetic information or their citizenship then it is unlawful harassment.

In order for harassment to be the subject of litigation though, it has to be pervasive. A single event doesn’t generally constitute harassment although there are exceptions. For example referring to a person of color using an epithet. For example using the “N” word for a person of color. Or referring to a Hispanic origin people as “wetbacks” or other derogatory terms.

That can form the basis for a harassment claim. But generally a single event is not enough.

If you are being harassed as an employee you should document thoroughly the dates and times when it occurred, who said it and in what context it was said. Also make not of who the witnesses are that you may wish to speak to in order to support your case.

Harassment under the law is not as easy as it sounds. And while many people say, “My boss is harassing me..”; harassment that has a legitimate business purpose is not harassment. So if he’s/she’s harassing you about getting to work late, or being lazy, or not doing your work properly, or if he’s/she’s riding you constantly insisting that you do a better job at your work – that’s not harassment.

If you have questions about unlawful harassment consult the local labor attorney. They can provide you a lot more information.


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