“My supervisor keeps singling me out, making jokes about my age, and asking me when I’m going to retire. How can I make it stop?”
Unfortunately, workplace harassment is a fact of many employees’ lives. Sometimes a supervisor or co-worker will single out a specific person and treat them inappropriately based on their gender or other demographic characteristics. Other times, a supervisor may insinuate or demand that an employee agree to do things of a sexual nature in order to get ahead. Importantly, Federal and State laws typically prohibit workplace harassment and employees do not have to submit to this sort of behavior in the workplace. In fact, in many jurisdictions, employers are automatically liable for harassment by an employee’s supervisor. Additionally, employers who are aware of harassment in the workplace, even if it is not harassment by a supervisor, have an obligation to take appropriate remedial steps to address the harassment. If an employer fails to take appropriate remedial actions then the employer can be legally liable for harassment by co-workers even if the harassment did not involve any members of management.
Workplace Harassment Based on a Protected Class
Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that can violate state and federal laws. Importantly, harassment does not need to be sexual in nature in order to be improper. Illegal harassment is unwelcome conduct that is overtly or implicitly due to a protected characteristic such as race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, sexual orientation, marital status, genetic information, or other protected status. Harassment based on a person’s protected status becomes unlawful where the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Harassing conduct can 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. Oftentimes, however, workplace harassment is more subtle and harder to detect. For example, a manager singling out one employee for regular criticism, hostility, or unfavorable treatment may constitute improper harassment if this treatment is secretly motivated by bias against a legally protected demographic characteristic of the employee.
In certain situations, an employee may be allowed to bring a legal case of “constructive discharge” against an employer for wrongful termination even though the employee resigned due to the hostile work environment created by the harassment at work. Constructive discharge exists when workplace conditions were intolerable enough that a reasonable employee would have felt that there was little choice but to resign. An employee who has been constructively discharged is entitled to the same damages available to employees who have been explicitly fired in an improper manner.
Employees who are subjected to workplace harassment may be entitled to damages, including, but not limited to lost wages, lost earning capacity, lost employment benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and attorney fees.
“My supervisor constantly leers at me and recently told me that I could easily get ahead in the company if I behaved more like a flirty coworker. What should I do?”
Sexual harassment generally falls into one of two categories. In “quid pro quo” harassment, submission to unwelcome sexual conduct is made an explicit or implicit condition of hiring, continued employment, or other workplace benefits such as promotions. The other type of sexual harassment is known as “hostile work environment” harassment. In “hostile work environment” harassment, unwelcome sexual conduct, such as sexually offensive comments, interferes with a person’s ability to do their job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. In many states within the New England region, harassment doesn’t need to be sexually explicit, it’s enough that the comments are charged with animus.
It should be noted that, although most “quid pro quo” harassment is sexual in nature, sexual harassment is only one form of hostile work environment harassment, which can also be caused by animus based on different demographic characteristics such as race, disability status, age, or other protected categories.
Employees who face workplace harassment may be entitled to damages, including but not limited to lost wages, lost earning capacity, lost employment benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and attorney fees.
We Offer Free Initial Consultations
If you believe you are being subjected to harassment in the workplace do not hesitate to contact Wyatt & Associates for a free initial consultation. Our experienced and compassionate attorneys will sit down with you and take the time to listen to your story. In the event that we can help vindicate your rights, we will zealously advocate on your behalf at every step of the process—whether that is filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or litigating in a state or federal court.