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Distinguishing Harassment From Teasing In The Workplace

In many workplaces, good-natured teasing and joking may go on between employees, or even between employees and supervisors. However, it is very easy for jokes and poking fun to go beyond the pale of what is acceptable. Teasing is not something that is actionable, but harassment is.That being said, you may need assistance distinguishing harassment from teasing in the workplace to determine whether you have a discrimination claim to bring.

“Not A Civility Code”

It has been said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not a “general civility” code. Indeed, countless Supreme Court opinions and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) decisions have held that “simple teasing” is not the same as targeted harassment. Title VII does not prevent “genuine but innocuous differences” in the ways the genders interact with each other and with others. However, the crux of the matter in too many situations is whether or not the behavior is “simple teasing” or something more. The standard is subjective, after a certain point.

There are differences between harassment and teasing that are more obvious than others.  For example, harassment must always involve a protected characteristic, while mere teasing can be about anything from a funny moment to a non-protected characteristic. Simple jokes also do not, at least in theory, impede a person from performing their job duties, while harassment may rise to the level where a person cannot do their job.

When To File A Charge

EEOC guidelines say that harassment becomes unlawful when enduring the harassment “becomes a condition of continued employment,” or when the conduct is “severe or pervasive enough” that a reasonable person would think a hostile or offensive work environment exists. The harassment does not have to be coming from a superior—it can come from people at your same level in the company, or even from someone below you in rare situations. In essence, it is not necessary for there to be a power imbalance beyond the harassment itself.

Like in so many situations, speaking with internal authorities is always the best first step toward resolving claims of harassment or discrimination. However, if mediation or discussions with your human resources department are unsuccessful, you have at least 180 days to file a charge with the EEOC or with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC). In some situations, your time in which to file can be up to one year with SCHAC. Consulting someone as soon as possible is always a good idea.

Call A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney

Teasing is, unfortunately, unavoidable in some workplaces. However, distinguishing harassment from teasing in the workplace is necessary. Contact a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney to help you decide how best to handle the issue, so that you can simply do your job in peace. Attorney A. Christopher Potts is well-versed in these types of cases, and is happy to help you with yours. Call the firm of Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule a consultation.

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