Workplace harassment occurs when a person’s colleagues or superiors create a hostile, abusive or intimidating work environment. Federal law prohibits this type of harassment when severe, pervasive conduct centers on a protected category such as age over 40, race, sex, pregnancy or religion.
If your work performance and mental health have been impacted by a hostile work environment, learn more about whether you may have a harassment case.
Types of prohibited conduct
The hostile work environment law applies not to minor incidents, but severe and ongoing occurrences that would be considered offensive to a reasonable individual. Examples include racial or ethnic slurs, name-calling, offensive jokes, mockery, insults, physical intimidation or threats, offense images and/or preventing a person from completing his or her work.
The perpetrator can be a co-worker, the person’s supervisor or another supervisor at the company, a partner or agent of the employer and/or someone at the work location who is not affiliated with the company. Illegal harassment need not result in economic damages and the victim does not have to be the person targeted by the offensive behavior to feel the effects of the hostile work environment.
If a person experiences loss of wages, lost promotion opportunities and/or termination because of a supervisor’s harassment, the employer has automatic liability. However, the company can attempt to prove that it took steps to curtail the harassment and the employee did not take advantage of these corrective measures.
When the offender is a customer, independent contractor or co-worker, the company is only liable if the victim can prove that leadership knew about or should have known about the harassment and failed to act.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission investigates harassment reports on a case-by-case basis. You must file a claim within 180 days of the alleged conduct to pursue a hostile workplace discrimination lawsuit.