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What constitutes workplace harassment, and who is liable?


Unnecessary conduct, such as offensive comments or jokes, slights and annoying behavior, should not be encouraged in the workplace. However, this type of conduct often occurs. Some employees may be sensitive to this behavior and feel that co-workers or their employer is harassing them as a result. For this reason, many California residents may be curious as to what conduct actually constitutes harassment in the workplace.

Harassment consists of unwanted conduct aimed at an employee as a result of their status as a member of protected class. These protected classes include factors such as pregnancy, race, age and religion, among many others. Such behavior becomes unlawful harassment when a condition of the victim's continuing employment becomes subject to the harassing conduct. Additionally, such conduct is harassing when the severity creates a work environment that would be considered abusive or hostile to a reasonable person.

If conduct in the workplace is found to constitute unlawful harassment, the victim's employer may be found liable under certain circumstances. If the harassment is conducted by a non-supervisor, the employer is liable if it had control over the perpetrator, knew or should have known of the harassment and did nothing to prevent or correct it. If the harassment is at the hands of a supervisor and includes a negative employment action, the employer is liable as well. The employer can avoid liability in these situations if they attempted to take corrective action and the victim failed to utilize the opportunity.

Employees should feel safe in the workplace and have the ability to enjoy their job. If this enjoyment is being prevented by the actions of co-workers or supervisors, they may need to take further action to assert their rights.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Harassment," accessed on Sept. 20, 2015

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Law Offices of Allan A. Sigel, P.C.

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