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How Is Workplace Harassment Defined?

Workers in the United States are protected from discriminatory as well as unfair employment practices by numerous state and federal laws. One specific type of workplace practice that workers are protected from is “harassment.” How is workplace harassment defined though? Most people have some idea what the word “harassment” means to them; however, “harassment” in the legal context is not necessary used the same way as it is in everyday conversation. If you feel you are being harassed in the workplace it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania employment law attorney right away to determine if you have an actionable case. In the meantime, it may help to gain a better understanding of how the law defines harassment in the workplace.

At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 is where the majority of the employment anti-discrimination laws are found, including the prohibition against harassment in the workplace. Although people often think of sexual harassment when they hear the term workplace harassment, harassment can be based on a wide variety of other characteristics. Title VII defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”

A single act of harassing behavior will not usually amount to a legally actionable complaint. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), examples of behavior that could be considered harassment include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, or interference with work performance. The law considers conduct to rise to the level of illegal harassment when:

  • Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, OR
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Another important aspect of the legal definition of harassment is that the perpetrator of the illegal conduct does not have to be the victim’s employer. In fact, it does not even have to be a supervisor. The law protects a worker from harassment by an employer, supervisor, co-worker, an agent of the employer, or even a non-employee.

Whether or not conduct amounts to actionable workplace harassment is extremely fact sensitive. Only an experienced Pennsylvania employment law attorney can evaluate your unique situation and provide you with your legal options. If you believe you are the victim of workplace harassment, contact an experienced Conshohocken, Pennsylvania employment law attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. Contact the employment law attorneys at Curley & Rothman, LLC by calling 610-834-8819 today to schedule your free consultation.

Employment LawScott Rothman