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Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

Harassment (also known as a “hostile work environment” claim) is an unlawful form of discrimination under many of the employment statutes.  Harassment on the basis of race, color, national original, sex, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, genetic information, disability and religion is prohibited.

Offensive conduct may include offensive jokes, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, mockery or ridicule, offensive objects or pictures, slurs, or epithets or name-calling.  Petty slights and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) are typically not enough to be actionable under the employment statutes.

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful harassment.  Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.  Sexual harassment of employees occurs in various scenarios including by a co-worker, supervisor, or agent of the employer, even if those individuals are the same sex.

Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals.

If the harassment results in a hostile work environment, an employer has a defense to the claim if it can prove that:  1) it reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior; and 2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.  In order to make such a defense, an employer should have a policy against harassment in the workplace that is communicated to employees and have a process for reporting complaints of harassment.  An employer will be liable if it knew, or should have known, about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate correction action.

Employers are strictly liable for harassing conduct of supervisors that result in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, demotion, reassignment and loss of wages.  

Lee Law Firm has significant experience with harassment/hostile work environment claims.  If you are in need of an attorney to bring or defend against a harassment/hostile work environment claim, please contact us for a free attorney consultation.


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