Workplace Harassment is a Form of Discrimination
Unlawful harassment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal authority.
Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (whether or not of a sexual nature and including same-gender harassment and gender identity harassment), national origin, age (40 and over), disability (mental or physical), sexual orientation, or retaliation (sometimes collectively referred to as "legally protected characteristics”) constitutes harassment when:
1. The conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment; or
2. A supervisor’s harassing conduct results in a tangible change in an employee’s employment status or benefits (for example, demotion, termination, failure to promote, etc.).
Hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Anyone in the workplace might commit this type of harassment – a management official, co-worker, or non-employee, such as a contractor, vendor or guest. The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed.
Examples of actions that may create sexual hostile environment harassment include:
- Leering, i.e., staring in a sexually suggestive manner;
- Making offensive remarks about looks, clothing, body parts;
- Touching in a way that may make an employee feel uncomfortable, such as patting, pinching or intentional brushing against another’s body;
- Telling sexual or lewd jokes, hanging sexual posters, making sexual gestures, etc.;
- Sending, forwarding or soliciting sexually suggestive letters, notes, emails, or images.
Other actions which may result in hostile environment harassment, but are non-sexual in nature, include:
- Use of racially derogatory words, phrases, epithets;
- Demonstrations of a racial or ethnic nature such as a use of gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group;
- Comments about an individual’s skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics;
- Making disparaging remarks about an individual’s gender that are not sexual in nature;
- Negative comments about an employee’s religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs);
- Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee’s birthplace or ancestry;
- Negative comments regarding an employee’s age when referring to employees 40 and over;
- Derogatory or intimidating references to an employee’s mental or physical impairment.
Harassment that results in a tangible employment action occurs when a management official’s harassing conduct results in some significant change in an employee’s employment status (e.g., hiring, firing, promotion, failure to promote, demotion, formal discipline, such as suspension, undesirable reassignment, or a significant change in benefits, a compensation decision, or a work assignment). Only individuals with supervisory or managerial responsibility can commit this type of harassment.
A claim of harassment generally requires several elements, including:
1. The complaining party must be a member of a statutorily protected class;
2. S/he was subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct related to his or her membership in that protected class;
3. The unwelcome conduct complained of was based on his or her membership in that protected class;
4. The unwelcome conduct affected a term or condition of employment and/or had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with his or her work performance and/or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
What is Not Harassment?
The anti-discrimination statutes are not a general civility code. Thus, federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. Rather, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the individual’s employment. The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action or is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.
Report any incident of harassment immediately to your supervisor, any member of management and/or to the Director of the Office of Workplace Diversity.