The term harassment covers a wide range of behaviors, but all behaviors share one commonality: They must be offensive in nature, making at least one individual feel uncomfortable.
Workplace harassment might be verbal or physical. Maybe an employee is being made fun of for his appearance or the way he walks or talks. It could be a racial epithet. It could be age-based, such as asking an employee when he’s planning to retire. It could be hugging or touching.
In 2018, nearly 26,700 charges of workplace harassment were filed in the U.S., according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While this is down slightly from previous years, it is unclear if the decline is because fewer individuals are being harassed or fewer individuals are stepping forward to report the harassment. According to research conducted in 2018, only 25 percent of women who experienced sexual harassment strongly agreed they could report the incident to their employer without fear.
How to address workplace harassment
Employers can — and should — set up training and enforcement procedures to ensure that if workplace harassment takes place at all, it is immediately halted. Typically, employees are encouraged to report harassment to a supervisor or human resources professional who can then take appropriate action to protect the employee and discipline the offender. The employee would then be protected and would not return to the harassing situation.
What happens when workplace harassment continues
If workplace harassment continues or a supervisor fails to report the harassment, an employee may seek legal counsel and file a claim with an administrative agency, either the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Differences between the agencies range from timelines to locations for conferences and hearings. An investigator will likely ask the employee for a statement and then begin an investigation that includes talking with witnesses, researching personnel files, employer harassment policies, emails and any other forms of documentation. A report will be developed that concludes whether a violation took place and if so, who violated it.
If employers can prove they have adequate workplace harassment policies, training and disciplinary procedures in place, took action to protect the harassed employee, and documented their policies and responses in personnel files, the complaint will likely be dismissed because the employer complied with regulations.
Best way to prevent workplace harassment
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Employers can prevent workplace harassment by having harassment effective policies, by training their employees, and by making it clear that harassment is not tolerated in the workplace. Employers can prevent a harassing incident from becoming a legal claim by implementing effective reporting procedures that employees trust.
A litigation lawyer can help if you find yourself in a workplace harassment claim. Contact Stock and Leader’s Litigation team today.