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When Does Workplace Harassment become Serious Enough to Report?

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A variety of things occur in workplaces across the country every day that might be questionable, but not all of them are breaking any laws. Many of these occurrences aren’t even unethical or warrant filing a report with human resources – they’re simply things that get on your nerves or make you wish you were employed elsewhere or better yet, independently wealthy. The laws governing workplace conduct are not general civility codes and are limited to protecting individuals from specific illegal conduct.

However, there are plenty of instances in which an occurrence should be reported because someone has stepped over the line in the workplace. Knowing the difference between a reportable instance of harassment in the workplace and one that doesn’t qualify as harassment can make your professional life much easier.

The best thing to remember regardless of your situation is that there are professionals who are experts in harassment laws in the workplace. If you ever feel as though you or someone else has had their legal rights infringed upon, it’s a good idea to speak to someone who knows the law. Speaking to your human resources department can help to clarify whether or not the behavior was inappropriate, but if you are still unsure, you can also contact an employment attorney for legal advice.

Understanding Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment comes in many forms, which only helps to muddy the waters. Some instances are obvious, but other times harassment can be subtle. Not all harassment is sexual and not all harassment is perpetrated by superiors in the workplace.

A few examples of harassment include:

  • Sexual innuendos or inappropriate (dirty) jokes either verbally or in writing
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Repeated requests for dates or personal favors
  • Comments about physical attributes
  • Displaying suggestive pictures or other material
  • Unnecessary touching without consent
  • Ridicule or mockery
  • Sabotage or interference with another’s work performance
  • Discriminatory actions based on race, gender, sexual preference, or personal attributes

Sometimes harassment takes the form of workplace bullying. If you feel you are being targeted by a co-worker or a superior for any reason, it’s worth speaking to human resources or an employment law expert.

The question to ask yourself when trying to determine whether an issue is serious enough to report is “How uncomfortable do these actions make me?”

This isn’t a fail-proof method of identifying harassment because discomfort is subjective - what bothers one person might not bother another. But you may have a right to not be made to feel uncomfortable in your workplace on an ongoing basis. If you have asked that behavior stop because it makes you uncomfortable and it continues, it has crossed into harassment, whether or not that harassment is actionable and illegal is a different analysis.

Harassment is a Frequent Occurrence in the Workplace

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) estimates that as much as 70 percent of sexual harassment goes unreported. This is because victims might be afraid of retaliation or they just don’t feel comfortable speaking up.

For more information on harassment and discrimination in the workplace visit the EEOC website.

It’s important to note that if you are harassed by a co-worker or superior in the workplace, you are afforded certain protections under the law. You cannot be fired for reporting an incident, nor can you be subjected to an even more hostile workplace as a result of speaking to someone about your discomfort.

If you’d like to speak to someone about a situation in your workplace or you have questions about reporting harassment, we can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation.

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