Defining Harassment

Harassment is defined as an occurrence when an employee or employees suffer pervasive unwanted conduct based on a protected trait, such as race or gender. And, there are many possible manifestations of workplace harassment.

Sexual harassment is perhaps the most talked about form of discrimination lately with the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaign. It is, simply put, sexual in nature and can include unwanted sexual advances, sexual misconduct, and sending lewd images, texts, or emails. It can occur between anyone, regardless of gender identity, and third-party witnesses are also included as victims. This also includes quid pro quo sexual harassment. If a job or any benefits of a job are offered on the condition that they partake in some form of sexual conduct, that is considered quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Personal harassment is when someone is targeted just because. People have experienced this kind of harassment since the playground days and it is essentially someone being a bully by making offensive jokes, using intimidation, or otherwise making a workplace uncomfortable. While not illegal, this kind of behavior can make working conditions difficult for victims.

Physical harassment involves threats or workplace violence and can elevate to assault. This includes threatening behavior, inflicting harm, and destroying property.

Psychological harassment preys on a person’s well-being. This includes isolating or denying someone, belittling their thoughts and actions, spreading rumors about someone, and challenging their suggestions in a non-constructive way. This type of harassment could affect a victim’s physical health and social and work life.

Online harassment, or more commonly known as cyberbullying, is yet another form of harassment seen in the office. This type of harassment could include sharing images and stories meant to humiliate someone, disseminating lies and gossip about someone via social channels or email, or directly contacting the person online with threats.

As part of all of these, there is a chance of retaliation harassment from the accused party. They may try to enact revenge of sorts by retaliating against their accuser.

How Harassment Can Affect a Workplace

Any harassment or even the allegations of it can greatly affect a business and its employees. There’s the obvious financial burden that an allegation, legal counsel, and possible trial could bring along with the payout or settlement. But the cost of harassment is more than just financial.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Harassment is associated with increased risk of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as diminished self-esteem, self-confidence, and psychological well-being.”

Productivity will also fall after an allegation. An employee will begin to feel dissatisfied and disengaged and may often be late to work or not show up at all. Projects become neglected and all employees can become distracted.

Employees don’t want to work somewhere that has even a hint of impropriety, especially if the workplace has become toxic or hostile. Employees will leave and new employees will be hard to come by.

In the case of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, look at Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing in 1998. The company agreed to pay $34 million to female workers at the Normal, Illinois plant, and paid out even more in individual cases.

In this case, women were often touched inappropriately, verbally abused, and subjected to insensitive jokes and behavior – a male worker fired an air gun between a female's legs. This environment caused many women to quit while others were denied promotions when they refused to grant sexual favors.

Mitsubishi has since hired Lynn Martin, former Secretary of Labor, who overhauled the anti-sexual harassment and complaint system, which now boasts a zero-tolerance policy.

How Harassment Protections Have Changed

Sex discrimination has only been illegal since the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and with that, the passing of Title VII. Both prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 modified Title VII and allowed plaintiffs in harassment cases the right to a jury trial in federal court. They also got the right to collect compensation and punitive damages.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1995 in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education that it’s illegal to punish someone for reporting sexual harassment and discrimination.

In 2006, but brought to the mainstream more in 2017, the #MeToo movement began, raising awareness of the number of women that have been harassed or assaulted, especially in the workplace. While this hasn’t changed any laws, it brought focus to the issue and changed the dialogue around it.

And while most of those are federal laws, there are currently only six states that require anti-harassment training in the workplace. These early adopters are paving the way to state-specific compliance training across the United States.

State-specific anti-harassment requirements:

California – Supervisor training and training for individual contributors 

Connecticut – Anti-harassment training for all employees 

Delaware – Anti-harassment training for all employees 

Illinois – A minimum of one training event each year addressing harassment in the workplace 

Maine – Anti-harassment training for all employees 

New York – Annual anti-harassment training with a focus on interactivity 

New York City – Anti-harassment training for all employees 

Texas – Anti-harassment training for all state employees 

Washington State – Anti-harassment training for all employees 

With BizLibrary’s easily accessible, engaging content, we can help you meet your state-specific compliance training needs.

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