Harassment in the Workplace

Author: Yana Alexis. St. Clair, Esq.

Harassment in the Workplace

While one's office environment can often be a stressful place due to purely work related matters, other issues, mandated by law, or just due to common sense, may become a problem for fellow coworkers.
What we plan to address in our next several issues, are concerns we should all keep in mind, about the very unpleasant matter of harassment in the work place.  Further, it is crucial that all employees should feel that they are part of a respectful, courteous work environment, where they are free from harassment and discrimination. 

We will begin with a general introduction of what harassment means in the workplace, and in our subsequent issues we will delve into the specifics of different types of harassment, and how to avoid them.  This is clearly not an enjoyable topic of discussion, but what is of upmost importance, is that we all should feel safe and secure in our work place, because after all, that is where we spend a large majority of our daily lives.
Most jurisdictions throughout the world have different laws regarding these issues, so please check with your local country, state, or employee handbook regarding the specific details. However, an overall concept to keep in mind, is that harassment of any type should never be tolerated, whether it is perpetrated by a fellow coworker, vendor, contractor, customer, or visitor of any type.

Once again, for specifics pertaining to your place of employment, it is important that you determine what the requirements for your local jurisdiction are. 

Generally, protected categories pertaining to discrimination are, but not limited to:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Gender (which includes childbirth, medical condition relating to childbirth or pregnancy)
  • Gender identity or gender expression
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Physical disability or mental disability
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military status, or
  • Any other characteristic protected by local law

Further, in many areas, individuals accused of such offences may be subjected to additional consequences, ranging from termination of employment, civil charges by the alleged victim, or even potential criminal charges.

Commonly, unless otherwise proscribed by law, harassment essentially means any behavior that is personally offensive, intimidating, or hostile, or may interfere with the individual being harassed, whether or not it ever rises to an actual lawsuit, or violation of the law. 
As previously mentioned, considering we will go deeper into the various types of harassment in our following issues, in the meantime it is important to keep in mind, that what is crucial concerning your workplace, is that if you suspect that a fellow employee feels uncomfortable by a comment or gesture you have made, whether intentional or not, chances are it is inappropriate. Thus, such behavior might potentially cause a varying degree of reprimand from your employer, or even termination of employment.  In the worst case scenario, it could even result in a civil lawsuit from the alleged victim, or even criminal charges. 

To be on the safe side, it is important to treat all fellow employees with the same amount of respect that we would want to be treated with, and to take a hint when we feel we are being inappropriate in some manner. 
In our next issue we will delve into the specifics of sexual harassment in the workplace, and ways to avoid it.  

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