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What Is Considered Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment may be alleged whenever someone faces unwanted behavior at work due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic. A protected characteristic (also referred to as “class”) includes age (40 or older), race, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability status, and several other qualities that are legally protected from discrimination in the workplace.

As a form of discrimination, workplace harassment is illegal under both California and federal law. Employees who experienced workplace harassment from their coworkers, supervisors, or any other parties affiliated with their employer may have a legal claim to seek damages.

Common Examples of Workplace Harassment

Unlawful harassment in the workplace isn’t always so clear. While it may be obvious that someone’s coworkers may be making fun of them for their religious attire, it may not be so obvious that their supervisor seems hostile to them because of their sexual orientation.

A few common examples of workplace harassment behavior include the following:

  • Offensive jokes
  • Offensive epithets
  • Slurs or name-calling
  • Insults that target a protected class
  • Inappropriate comments about a protected class
  • Threats, intimidation, or ridicule
  • Offensive imagery around the workplace

The circumstances in which harassment may be more or less apparent depend entirely on each unique situation. Put simply, however, any kind of unwelcome behavior that seems motivated or targeted toward someone’s actual or believed affiliation with a protected class may be considered unlawful harassment.

Harassment Creates a Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is not merely one filled with a lot of tension. A hostile work environment is one in which workplace harassment becomes so severe and pervasive that it interferes with someone’s ability to do their job.

At this point, an employee may have attempted to bring their concerns about their treatment to their employer and the employer has failed to adequately remedy the situation. When harassment creates a hostile work environment, any employee may bring forward a legal claim – not just the subject of the harassment, who may feel too intimidated to do so.

Bullying vs. Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment is bullying behavior, but bullying in the workplace isn’t necessarily harassment. The defining characteristic between these two ideas is discrimination, and bullying doesn’t necessarily target someone for a protected characteristic.

For example, it is lawful (although unfortunate) for a supervisor to call their subordinate an “idiot” for making a mistake at work. This may be regarded as bullying in the workplace, but it’s not illegal. That said, it may be illegal if the employee has any mental disabilities and the supervisor took that fact into account when making their comment.

In many cases, whether someone’s behavior at work may be classified as bullying or unlawful harassment requires an investigation into the motivation behind their behavior.

What Should I Do If I Am Being Harassed at Work?

If you believe you are being harassed by anyone at work, immediately inform your supervisor or someone in a leadership position at your company. Your employer is obligated to take your report seriously, investigate it, and take meaningful action to prevent you from experiencing such treatment again.

If this doesn’t improve your situation, or you believe your employer is retaliating against you for reporting illegal harassment, contact an employment law attorney for help.

You can get a free consultation with K2 Employment Law to learn more about your legal options. Contact us online to get started.