Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination in the workplace that involves unwelcome or offensive conduct. This type of conduct is explicitly prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).
Workplace harassment occurs when a person is treated in an unwelcome or offensive manner because of the person’s race, color, religious believes, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information or age (the victim should be 40 years of age or older). Mere annoyances or isolated incidents are not enough to raise the claim of harassment. The unwelcome behavior in the workplace becomes harassment when such conduct is so frequent and/or severe that it creates a hostile work environment and/or can lead to adverse employment decisions like demoting or firing the harassment victim.
It is illegal to harass an employee in retaliation for reporting violations of law by the employer, participating in investigations, or opposing any discriminatory employment practices. The employers are expected to take preventive measures to prevent workplace harassment.
Employers will be liable for harassment in the workplace by a supervisor, if the it causes any adverse employment decision with regard to the harassed person. Such decisions may include demotion, firing, or any other significant action with negative consequences for the victim of the illegal conduct.
According to the guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in the circumstances the employer won’t be liable only if it can prove that it “reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior,” and that the employee “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.”
Employers can also be liable for harassing actions by their non-supervisory employees and even those who are not their employees, provided that employers have certain control over them. For instance, such individuals may include independent contractors and even customers on the premises. An employer may be liable for their harassing behavior if the employer “knew or should have known” about it and did not take “prompt and appropriate” actions to correct it.