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What Is Harassment in the Workplace?

Many of us have used the term harassment before, almost always in a colloquial sense. However, there is a legal category of behavior known as harassment, and it is almost always grounds on which a complaint may be made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you believe that you have been the victim of harassment, you may want to familiarize yourself with its legal definition and what it is not.  

Harassment or Teasing?

Standard teasing or inconsequential jokes do not rise to the level of harassment, though we often use the words interchangeably. Harassment, in an employment context, is defined in a legal sense as any consistent and unwanted conduct which puts down or shows distaste for someone in the workplace. (Do not mistake this for criminal harassment, which is a term used when discussing offenses such as stalking or breaching the peace.)

There are two broad types of conduct that can constitute harassment. The first is defined by the Department of Labor as “quid pro quo” – the classic pattern in which promotion or other job advancement is ‘traded’ for something in return, usually sexual favors or engaging in activities intended to favor one race or religion (for example, being pressured to attend a supervisor’s Ku Klux Klan meeting). The second is referred to as “hostile work environment” harassment, in which is when a repeated pattern of inappropriate, hostile or otherwise unwelcome conduct makes work impossible without being continually provoked and made uncomfortable. It is this type that is more prevalent out of the two.

Liability and Prevention

An employee, if the conduct in question has escalated, may pursue remedies within their company, or they may file a charge with the EEOC if in-house remedies prove ineffective. It is important to remember that while most who file are the targets of harassment, it is not necessary that this be the case – you may simply be affected by it or experience it as a secondary target. Also, harassment does not have to result in any kind of economic hardship for it to be actionable. Employees have a right to feel safe at work, and if that is not the case, action should be taken.

Filing a charge on the basis of harassment must be done within 180 days of the conduct in question, and can be done at any EEOC field office, or by mail. It is worth noting that if your state or local jurisdiction enforces a law against the conduct you experienced, the deadline for filing a charge is extended by 300 calendar days. In most situations, this is the case in South Carolina as the Human Affairs Law is enforced against discrimination and harassment on multiple grounds.

Contact An Employment Discrimination Attorney

If you are in the difficult position of being harassed at work, it can feel like obtaining an equitable result is impossible. Enlisting an experienced attorney can help significantly level the playing field. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston firm of Hitchcock & Potts can help answer your questions and guide you through what can be a confusing process. Contact us today to set up an initial appointment.

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