The #MeToo movement, which marks its two-year anniversary this month, has catapulted sexual harassment to the forefront of the American consciousness and forever solidified the rules for acceptable workplace behaviors. While #MeToo has garnered most of the attention in the last couple of years, employers must be aware of – and guard against – other types of workplace harassment, as well.
In a broad sense, workplace harassment is any behavior that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. More specifically, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Employers should be on the lookout for harassment in their workplaces, which can take many forms, including:
- Intimidation: Over-authoritative behavior; excessive micromanagement, shouting, swearing, threatening, inferior treatment and other rude behavior.
- Ridicule: Excessive teasing, belittling the employee in front of others.
- Sexual Harassment: Uninvited and unwanted physical contact, off-color jokes, suggestive comments, suggesting sexual acts in exchange for a promotion or other preferential treatment and inappropriate images or other content.
- Assault: Hitting, pushing or other violent behavior.
- Bullying: Name-calling, lobbing insults, purposely and publicly excluding or humiliating someone, applying constant peer pressure to try to make someone do something he or she does not want to do.
- Discriminatory Actions Based on Protected Categories Under the EEOC: Racial slurs, intolerance, disparaging comments about or making fun of someone’s age, skin color, disability, national origin or religion
Sexual orientation is not yet legally protected under Title VII. The idea of such protections is gaining traction in the courts, however, and the EEOC views as unlawful any harassment of an employee based on his or her sexual orientation or because of a gender transition. In fact, the EEOC considers it harassment when someone intentionally and persistently fails “to use the name and gender pronoun that correspond to the gender identity with which the employee identifies and which the employee has communicated to management and employees.”
There are many reasons employers should be vigilant about ensuring their companies are harassment-free zones. Harassing conduct, left unchecked, gives rise to a hostile and intimidating work environment that wrecks employee morale, damages company culture and brand reputation, reduces productivity and makes it harder to recruit top job candidates.
If you observe employees harassing others or receive a report that a worker has been the victim of harassment, move quickly to conduct a thorough, unbiased investigation. Engage a human resources expert at Axcet HR Solutions and, if needed, an employment attorney, to ensure the investigation is carried out fairly and to help you take action based on the findings.
Most importantly, take steps to create a work environment where harassment will never be an issue. Start by modeling good behavior from the top. Leaders set the culture for every organization. Develop and distribute unambiguous policies, and train all employees – especially supervisors – to recognize and mitigate harassing behaviors.