Defending Decency
And Civil Rights In The Workplace

When does workplace harassment become illegal?

On Behalf of | May 28, 2024 | Sexual Harassment & LGBTQ Rights

Most of us maintain friendly and professional relationships with our work colleagues. But no matter what job or industry you work in, you are bound to encounter colleagues you do not get along with or who cause you frustration, anger or make your job more difficult.

This sometimes leads to workplace conflicts. While conflict is to be expected at times, if you are feeling harassed by another employee, you may wonder when the harassing conduct crosses the line and becomes illegal.

According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”), workplace harassment becomes illegal when the unwelcome conduct is based on certain categories. Some of these categories include age, color, disability, national origin, race or religion.

Harassment also becomes illegal when it turns your working environment hostile. A hostile work environment is one where the harassment becomes severe enough to create a substantially negative work environment.

This usually means the harassment escalates to the point where you can no longer complete your work. Harassment must generally more than one isolated comment or statement made to you that you take offense to but does not otherwise impact your ability to keep doing your job.

Harassment can come from anyone in the workplace. This includes co-workers, managers supervisors or anyone who can create a hostile environment for you.

Forms of harassment

There are many behaviors that qualify as harassment. The harassment can be verbal or physical. It can be direct statements toward you individually or statements about one of your characteristics, such as race.

If you are experiencing harassment and it gets to the point where you cannot get through your workday, you should report it to your employer right away. Many people question whether they should report the harassment, especially if it is coming from someone in a leadership position.

However, you are legally required to report harassment within 180 of the most recent incidents of harassment. The 180-day deadline is extended to 300 calendar days of a state or local agency enforces a state or local law prohibiting harassment on the same basis.

When you report the harassment, all prior incidents of harassment will still be investigated in addition to the most recent one.

Another reason to report the harassment is that it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting the harassment.

Once you report the harassment, start documenting your employer’s words and actions. This can be important evidence if you feel you are experiencing retaliation for reporting your harassment.

What retaliation can look like

Retaliation can be in the form of a termination, demotion or other adverse employment action, but it can take subtler forms. A change in your work duties or hours, more harassing statements or an action that makes your overall work environment less pleasant could be retaliation.

Remember that you are legally protected and the law is on your side when you are the victim of workplace harassment. Threats or retaliation by your employer are illegal and you should not let them cause you to remain silent.