Hostile Work Environment Definition

I’m Being Harassed at Work! What Can I Do?

By Jenn S.

Illegal harassment in the workplace is no joke.

Workplace harassment involves unwelcome and offensive conduct that is based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, disability, or age (age 40 or older). Many states also have other protected classes so it is important to be familiar with your own state’s discrimination laws.

Some examples of harassment include offensive or derogatory jokes, racial or ethnic slurs, pressure for dates or sexual favors, unwelcome comments about a person’s religion or religious garments, or offensive cartoons or pictures, to name a few.

Keep in mind, however, that not all workplace harassment is illegal. Discrimination laws generally do not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not particularly serious. For workplace harassment to be illegal, the conduct must either be severe (meaning very serious) or pervasive (meaning it occurred with frequency).

One instance of harassing conduct is generally not sufficient to meet the definition of illegal harassment, unless the conduct is very serious, such as a physical assault. If you believe you are being illegally harassed at work, there are several steps you should take right away to protect yourself:

1. Tell the Harasser to STOP:

Be direct – say what you feel. If you are not comfortable with the comments or conduct being directed toward you, be sure to let the actor know – right away. Make it clear that their comments or conduct are unacceptable and that you expect it stop immediately. One caveat: You are not required to confront the harasser. However, it is a great first step if you feel comfortable doing it. Your direct admonishment to the harasser may stop him or her in their tracks without having to resort to more serious measures.

2. Write it Down:

If you are being treated in a way that you don’t think is appropriate by any person at work, write it down. Dates, times, quotes – it is ALL important. The better the documentation, the better your case. Any notes are better than none – steno notebook, computer file, or cocktail napkin – it all works. Most important item – DATE. Don’t leave it out.

3. Tell a Member of Management:

If things don’t change after you’ve told the harasser that you’re not comfortable (OR if you simply do not want to confront your coworker), tell you boss or go straight to HR.

Take a look at your employee handbook and determine how it is that you bring a complaint of harassment. Follow any procedures that are outlined and if your company does not have any sort of procedure outlined, just talk with your supervisor.

Any inaction on their part will only add fuel to your fire, should you actually be forced to bring a sexual harassment complaint through a state agency.

Another caveat: If it happens to be your supervisor that is doing the harassing, go above their head to the next person in control, or any other supervisor-level person that you feel comfortable with, including HR.

Don’t just share with coworkers – You must go to HR or some supervisor to report the problem because an employer will not be held legally responsible for conduct that they did not know about. The only way an employer can know is if you tell them – and that is generally only through HR or management.

4. Demand Action:

Don’t let your employer sit on their laurels when it comes to your complaint – demand action and a result. Be sure to ask your employer for written evidence of their investigation into your complaint, as well as a written explanation of their results and findings.

It is your right to know what your employer is doing to address your concerns and if the employer’s action is ineffective in stopping the harassment, you probably have a case to take to a lawyer or your state agency that enforces discrimination laws.

5. Don’t Wait:

Do not wait to report the problem. As soon as you feel that you are being harassed, make your move, being it confronting the harasser or making a report to management.

Waiting could subject you to further acts of harassment that may worsen in severity or frequency – who wants that? Waiting may also result in keeping certain instances of harassment or discrimination from being considered should you wait too long to file a formal complaint through a state agency or attorney.

So don’t sit around thinking about it – if you feel you are being illegally harassed, stand up and fight NOW.

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  1. tacoma749 says:

    My boss’s won’t do anything to my coworker that is harassing me. My boss’s doesn’t care and won’t do anything the coworker. Is there anything I can do to stop this and report my boss’s for not doing anything? I am feeling helpless and confused and bout to quit my job for not caring. I already told my management twice and they don’t want to do anything. What is HR you are talking about? We don’t even have a handbook in our work place and we didn’t even sign anything to a rule book. The place of my work is owned and not owned by the company. I need advice or help to get this work on the ball to fire the coworker or get to quit? I come home and cry and stress out for this stupid problem everyday. When I come to work he is there blocking my way to count the drawer to make sure the money is starting off. He trashes the office and makes nasty stinky farts in the office while I am there and doesn’t think it’s a bad thing.. What else can I do then telling him to stop and he doesn’t listen?

  2. I really need help. I am constantly harassed at work. I work at a company that sells body kits on Amazon. Right now I am the only employee that works for the company. The owner has several businesses. I just got back from vacation and the owner pulled me in the conference room and accused me of stealing from the company. He asked me why I changed the password on the Amazon account. I told him I could not log in for some reason so I changed it to the same password as it was before. Since I am the only employee and had to answer messages on Amazon I needed to log in so our account would not get suspended (basically so he would not fire me). I have all access to the account as my title is operations manager. The owner then states he told me I am not allowed to change any passwords. He never disclosed that before. Either way I changed the password to the same one. The owner accused me of changing the bank account information on Amazon so I could send money to my personal account. He can very easily go onto settings and see that the bank account has never been changed and the money has not gone to any other account. The owner stated he emailed me and called me several times while I was in Colorado (he was calling the wrong phone number and I did not check any emails as I was on vacation. This was discussed during our meeting before I left. I would only be answering messages on Amazon and processing a few orders so they would not be late). This is not the first time. I was accused of taking a walk in customers money and pocketing it. I was accused as the accountant could not find the payment for the order (accounting error). The owner said he had me on camera taking the money. So I watched the video. I didn’t even shake the customers hand or take anything from the customer. I was so upset I could not even think straight. Then he accused me of giving the customer a free part. The owner once again jumped the gun. I looked up the transaction I found within 5 minutes the order had been paid a month before by the customers mother for there birthday. It took me 5 minutes as there was notes in the order. Why couldn’t accounting find it? If the owner doesn’t trust me why did he make me Operations manager? Why am I in charge of everything? He gave me all access. I’ve been with the company for 2 years now. There is more. I’ve been asked to work off the clock. There is so much. I even was round about way accused of smoking pot in the bathroom while at work. At that time we had a total of 3 employees for the online company. The building which he owns and runs has several employees. Our office was located next to the restrooms. Therefore we had all types of foul orders lingering in our office. There was talk about our office smelling like pot. It was coming for the bathrooms into our office. The owner only drug tested our office and not all employees. We felt this was not fair as the restroom was mainly used by warehouse employees. The owners response was “well its a different company”. Its same owner same building same everything. We were subject to drug test, urin and hair. I did not want to do the hair test as they were going to cut a patch out of my hair on my head. I tested negative as I do not do drugs or alcohol. Later on we found out that it was one of the warehouse workers that bragged he was smoking pot in the bathroom on the clock after he was fired for an altercation. Why didn’t everyone get tested? Half the company smokes pot and has rec cards. Back to the steeling from Amazon. The owner came in and handed me a write up. I refused to sign it as I did nothing wrong. They keep writing me up for random things that I do not agree with and I sign them. If I don’t they starting talking about an “exit strategy”. They go around about threatening me if I do not sign I will lose my job. Well this time I refused to sign it. I did nothing wrong and I’m tired of all the harassment. The owner stated ” I will give you until tomorrow. If you don’t sign it you can no longer be employed here”. I told him I do not agree what so ever and I am tired of being harassed. If he wishes to fire me then fire me. I’m not quitting. He said if you don’t like it here then why are you here just leave. I said I need my job and like what I do but I am tired of the harassment. Its obvious I am not wished to be an employee here so I will start looking for a job. Then I asked him is it okay if I record this conversation. He said sure. Then said oh we will talk tomorrow and walked out. What do I do?


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