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Workplace: Worker Protection

Your workplace might not be your favorite place to be, but it should be safe and free of discrimination. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Workplace issues are often related to discrimination or harassment. For instance, a co-worker or supervisor might harass you by demanding you perform tasks outside of your job description in exchange for preferential treatment at work. Or you might be treated differently based on something other than your job performance, such as sexual orientation, race, or age.

These are examples of problems that can occur in the workplace that might warrant legal action.

What is Workplace Discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when actions including hiring, firing, demoting, or promoting are based on a prejudice of some kind that results in the unfair treatment of employees. Discrimination is strictly prohibited by federal laws, as well as various laws in different states that are intended to strengthen the federal guidelines.

Several specific federal laws address workplace discrimination, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
  • Equal Pay Act
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA)
  • Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Act
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA)

Employees who believe they are victims of discrimination are required to file a report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prior to taking further legal action.

What is Harassment?

Harassment is a specific type of discrimination that occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct based on age, color, disability, genetic information, race, religion, sex, or national origin.

Keep in mind, not everything that upsets you in the workplace is considered harassment.

Examples of harassment include:

  • Name calling
  • Offensive jokes
  • Slurs
  • Epithets
  • Physical assaults or threat of physical violence
  • Intimidation
  • Ridicule
  • Insults
  • Offensive objects or images

If you are forced to endure harassment as a condition of employment or the harassment is severe enough to create a hostile, intimidating, or abusive workplace, your employer is violating the law.

Furthermore, there are laws in place to prevent your employer from retaliating against you for reporting wrongdoing. For instance, if you file a report that your employer is discriminating based on race and are then disciplined for your report, you can take action against your employer regarding the retaliation.

To be considered harassment, the perpetrator need not be your supervisor. You can be harassed by anyone in the workplace. Furthermore, people can be indirectly harassed if they are affected by the conduct of one or more people, even if they were not the intended target of the harassment.

Employers are responsible for dealing with harassment by trying to prevent and correct any harassing behavior. If they fail to do so, they can be held accountable, in addition to the individual committing the act.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a specific type of harassment that is of a sexual nature or based on a person’s sex. Teasing and offhand comments aren’t necessarily sexual harassment but can be if occurrences are frequent and/or cause a hostile or offensive work environment, or affect an employee’s status within the company.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • Sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Physical harassment
  • Verbal harassment

Both men and women can be sexually harassed. Sexual harassment can also occur even if there is no individual target. For instance, an offensive comment about women is considered sexual harassment even though it’s in general and not directed at a specific employee.

Like discrimination in general, incidences of harassment or sexual harassment must first be reported to the EEOC for investigation.

More Information on Harmful Workplace Conditions:

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