All workers deserve the opportunity to work in a fair and equitable work environment without having to worry about being ridiculed, harassed, or treated disrespectfully. Unfortunately, as reported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other studies over a number of years, a harassment-free workplace environment does not always exist.
Employment discrimination is prohibited by local and federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on any protected identifying characteristic of a person, including but not limited to race, color, religion, sex, gender, and national origin.
An employer cannot discriminate or allow discrimination at the workplace in any form. Moreover, workplace harassment is included in the description of employment discrimination, and that includes harassment coming from supervisors, managers, and employees.
Despite the protection against harassment afforded by laws, more work has to be done. Workplace harassment is an ongoing, serious problem. However, many workers never bother to report harassment to anyone of authority, including a supervisor or manager.
Why Does Harassment Go Underreported?
Workplace harassment is unwelcome or inappropriate behavior toward a person because of their race, pregnancy status, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, religion, age, disability, or other protected characteristics unique to an individual. As previously mentioned, workplace harassment is described by federal law as a form of employment discrimination. According to the EEOC, inappropriate conduct directed toward an employee is defined as harassment when the conduct is constant, becoming a condition of employment, or when the conduct is extreme or widespread, creating a hostile work environment.
Laws against workplace harassment also prohibit retaliation for filing an internal complaint at work, filing a formal charge with an agency, participating in an investigation, or standing up against harassing behavior.
Inappropriate conduct that is considered harassment may include intimidation, ridicule, epithets, sexual advances, inappropriate touching, slurs, and mockery. Harassment may also include the use of pictures, emails, or texts.
There are many common reasons why failing to report workplace harassment is so frequent. Despite stringent laws in place that prohibit workplace harassment, actually having to deal with it is not as easy for a worker as it may seem.
Those subjected to workplace harassment sometimes have a feeling of guilt, as though there were something they could have done to stop it. This feeling, or insecurity, can begin to tear the person down. Some people might begin to have self-doubt, as though they might have done something to bring it on themselves, albeit that is never the case.
The fear of speaking up about workplace harassment is extremely common. The person might feel embarrassed to share with an employer the details of what has occurred. Fear that the allegation will not be believed, or that the employee will be blamed or ridiculed for reporting the harassment, may cause them to avoid ever reporting it.
The person might feel that avoidance is the best policy. This is a normal response in which they will avoid speaking to or coming in contact with the harasser. Those subjected to harassment might behave as though the inappropriate conduct were not directed toward them. Downplaying the behavior is also common.
Many workers are afraid of retaliation. They may feel that complaining about something at work shines them in a negative light. Many employees believe that no employer wants an employee who creates a problem.
The fear of retaliation leads some people to believe that they might lose their job, be denied a raise or promotion, experience a reduction in pay or work hours, be transferred or reassigned, or receive a demotion. In many cases, workers fear retaliation in the form of extended harassment.
The work culture might not lend itself to a complaint of harassment. In some cases, workplace harassment is taken lightly or not taken seriously at all. The work culture might actually support the harassment, especially when a group behaves in a way that is unacceptable.
To some workers, making a complaint about workplace harassment means having to relive or exacerbate the problem. The last thing that some workers want to do is to extend the harassment by having to confront the problem. This includes having to deal with investigations, as well as being labeled in a negative way by other employees.
The thought of being labeled a “complainer” by the workforce leads to fears of becoming an outsider. They might feel that the work environment could become even more intolerable. This includes being excluded from meetings, group events or projects, and opportunities. There might also be a fear of losing the friendship of a coworker or two as well.
Some workers fail to report workplace harassment because they fear a lack of redress by the employer, thinking that a claim will be dismissed or that nothing will be done to correct it. Other people might fear that a claim will not be taken seriously at all. There might also be a history of the employer refusing to take corrective measures in the past.
Many employees simply do not want the attention or embarrassment that comes with a complaint. Sexual harassment, in particular, is a difficult topic. Many survivors of sexual harassment believe that they will have to be explicit about the conduct that was bad enough to make them complain about it in the first place. In some cases, having to explain in detail about what took place is what many workers will avoid at all cost.
Under What Circumstances Is an Employer Liable for Workplace Harassment?
Employers are liable for any harassment that takes place at the workplace. This includes harassment from any person who works on a permanent or temporary basis with the employer, including supervisors, managers, employees, vendors, etc.
There are, however, factors that must exist for employers to be held liable. For employers to be held liable for harassment by a supervisor or manager, the result of the harassment must result in an adverse effect directly related to the claimant. Some examples include termination, denying a promotion, a deduction in salary or working hours, and being excluded from meetings or projects.
The employer is also liable if the supervisor or manager creates a hostile work environment. Nevertheless, the employer can avoid liability for a hostile work environment if it can be proven that there was a reasonable effort made to stop, prevent, or correct the harassment, and that the employee responded to the help offered by acting unreasonably, failing to take advantage of the corrective measures taken by the employer.
An employer is liable for harassment caused by any person that comes in direct contact with the harassed worker and with whom the employer has an opportunity to interact. This includes an employee, supervisor, or anyone not considered an employee, including independent contractors and customers.
Before the employer can be held liable, there are requirements to meet. The terms of liability are met if the employer was aware or should have been aware of the harassment and failed to take appropriate measures to correct it. If you are experiencing harassment at work, it is critical to have a lawyer on your side.
Philadelphia Employment Attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Workers Who Are Experiencing Harassment
If you have been subjected to inappropriate behavior at your job, it may qualify as harassment. The process for filing a claim and proving workplace harassment is complicated. For legal help, contact one of our experienced Philadelphia employment attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.