Workplace harassment does not only have to be sexual in nature. Unlawful harassment, is a form of discrimination against protected classes as defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal authorities.
The "legally protected characteristics" as outlined in Title VII and interpreted by subsequent court cases, the basis on which unwelcome verbal or physical conduct may constitute unlawful harassment include:
- Ethnicity and national origin
- Gender, sex, and/or sexual orientation
- Marital Status
- Domestic partner, civil union
For a harassment claim to prevail, however, the unwelcome conduct must be pervasive or severe enough to create a hostile work environment, or the harassing conduct of a supervisor must result in a tangible change in the harassed employee's benefits or employment status. A change in employment status refers to an action such as a termination, demotion, unfairly being passed up for a promotion, suspension, undesired transfer, etc.
Examples of actions that can create a hostile work environment include:
- Telling lewd sexual jokes, leering, touching in a way that makes an employee uncomfortable, making offensive remarks about looks or body parts, forwarding sexually suggestive emails
- Making disparaging remarks about someone's gender that are not necessarily sexual in nature
- Using racially or ethnically derogatory words, phrases, gestures or pictures
- Expressing stereotypes with regard to an employee's ancestry or birthplace
- Making intimidating or derogatory references with regard to an employee's physical or mental impairment
If you witness or are the recipient of harassment that interferes with your work, makes you uncomfortable, or has resulted in a change in your employment status or benefits, immediately report the activity to management. If you also wish to initiate an EEO complaint, you should do so within 45 calendar days of the date of the incident regardless of whether any internal harassment inquiry has been completed. You may also wish to consult with a qualified employment discrimination attorney.