When people think about workplace harassment, the first thing to come to mind is sexual harassment. You have to worry about how to prevent it, how to investigate it, and how to discipline offenders.
As a business owner, you also have to worry about the legal fall-out… but you may not have realized that workplace harassment goes much further than just sexual harassment.
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,individuals with legally protected characteristics have a right to work in an environment free from unwanted intimidation, ridicule, degradation, and sexual advances.
Harassment can occur when a supervisor or co-worker singles out a person for harassment based on a protected characteristic, or when the content of the harassment itself directly relates to any of these protected classes. Discrimination and harassment often run hand-in-hand. The only major difference is that discrimination usually occurs once, where harassment is defined as behavior so frequent, or so severe, that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision.
Harassment can be performed by the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area of the company, a co-worker, or someone that is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Based on Race, Color, or National Origin
It is against the law for an employee to be treated differently because of their racial, national, or ethnic heritage. This includes stereotypical language, jokes, and comments that are made verbally or in writing that are offensive to a reasonable person.
Based on Religion
You are required to ensure that your employees are not treated poorly because of their religious, moral or ethical beliefs, or affiliations with any religious groups. You also are expected to make reasonable accommodations for the observance of religious days. Some religious require certain models of dress, including head coverings facial hair, or footwear. You must allow employees to follow these dress codes unless they materially interfere with safety and production of others in the workplace.
Based on Disability
Disability discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated less favorably because they have a history of disability(like cancer that is controlled or in remission) or because they are believed to have a disability. The law also protects people that are related to someone that has a disability(meaning it is illegal to discriminate against someone because their spouse has a disability). You are required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability unless doing so would cause undue hardship(meaning significant difficulty or expense).
Based on Marital Status
You cannot discriminate based on whether or not someone is married, single, divorced, widowed, or head of household. For example, you’d be illegally discriminating if you denied an applicant for a job that required a lot of travel because you preferred someone that was single and didn’t have as many family obligations.
Based on Genetic Information
Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) took effect on November 21, 2009. Under GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against applicants or employees based on genetic information. This information includes genetic tests of an individual or their family members. It also includes family medical history because that can predict an individual’s risk of getting a disease, disorder, or condition in the future. GINA only applies if your company has over 15 employees. It also doesn’t apply to already diagnosed conditions.
Based on Veteran Status
It is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on their veteran status. Some common examples of this are: paying the veteran less because they are receiving veteran benefits, giving them a job based on their status, or permitting other staff to demean, and ridicule an employee based on their military background.
Based on Sex or Gender Identification
You are prohibited from discriminating against an applicant or employee based on their sex, or their connection with an organization or group that generally is associated with people of a certain sex. It is also a violation of Title VII to discriminate based on gender identity. This includes transgender, lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals.
Based on Age
Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only covers people that are 40 years of age or older. However, some states have laws that protect younger workers.
Based on Pregnancy
You cannot treat an employee or applicant poorly because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy or childbirth, you must treat her in the same way you would treat any other temporarily disabled employee. For example: you might provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave just like you would for other temporarily disabled employees.
While there are a lot of ways that workplace harassment can occur, sexual harassment is still the most common and results in the most legal damages against companies, so you should make sure you’re up to speed on your liabilities and responsibilities.