No one deserves to be harassed at work but reporting harassment in the workplace can be difficult and stressful. Many people are afraid of losing their job if they do try to report workplace harassment.
Understand that employees have many rights under federal and state law, including legislation protecting them from harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal government agency that administers employee rights laws against workplace harassment, a form of employment discrimination. The laws that protect employees include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
But there are best practices to handle reporting harassment in the workplace that serve as powerful processes against retaliatory-inclined employers.
How to File Harassment Charges at Work
The EEOC has recommended guidelines for reporting harassment in the workplace. The first action they recommend you to take is to tell the person who is harassing you to stop – if you feel comfortable doing this. If you are not comfortable, or if the person does not stop, follow these steps.
- Check your employee handbook or company website to see if they have an anti-harassment policy. You can also check with an HR representative or any supervisor at your workplace.
- If your employer does have one, follow their specific steps. If your employer does not, talk with a supervisor to explain what has happened, including the supervisor of the person who has harassed you in the workplace, potentially causing a hostile work environment. You have the right to ask them for help in stopping the unwanted behavior if it is ongoing.
- File a harassment complaint. The laws mentioned above protect you from punishment, such as getting fired (also called retaliation). You have the right to oppose unwanted behavior, report workplace harassment, and participate in investigations.
- You also have the option of filing a charge of discrimination to the EEOC directly, which should be done promptly as there are statutes of limitations on filing a complaint.
Before reporting harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand who is protected under the law.
What is Workplace Harassment?
Workplaces can become extremely stressful and dysfunctional. Bosses can be very “mean” and unsupportive of their employees. These types of situations and behaviors do not necessarily equal workplace harassment. The EEOC has specific parameters in the legislation they enforce that protect employees.
According to the EEOC, “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. This “unwelcome conduct” becomes unlawful when:
- Withstanding the behaviors becomes a condition of continued employment.
- The behaviors are severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.
Examples of the type of conduct that can lead to a violation of the law include:
- Epithets or name-calling.
- Physical threats or assaults.
- Offensive jokes or objects/pictures.
- Direct interference with work performance.
Workplace harassment does not always come from a direct supervisor. It can also be a supervisor in another department, a vendor or outside agent of the employer, a co-worker, or even a client/customer.
Stopping Workplace Harassment
If you or a co-worker are dealing with workplace harassment, know that employees have legal rights to make it stop without fear of retribution. Every employee deserves to be able to work in a healthy, discrimination-free environment.
Following employer policies on reporting harassment in the workplace is essential to your protection against losing your job. The guidelines defined by the EEOC are clear. Depending on where you are in the process, certain decisions can be made and actions that can be taken. First and foremost, the harassment needs to stop. Follow the steps listed above to get out of hostile, unhealthy environments.
Additionally, seeking out an attorney specializing in employee rights is recommended in most cases. Doing so will give you a legal advocate with expertise in laws protecting employees from harassment in the workplace. They will guide you in each step of the process when reporting harassment at work or filing a harassment complaint with the EEOC. Suppose some type of punishment does happen to you for attempting to stop the harassment. In that case, an employee rights attorney fights hard to get the best outcome possible, including appropriate financial settlements.
The attorneys at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. have deep experience holding employers accountable for violations of employment law, including corporations across multiple industries. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.