Harassment |
February 17, 2017

5 Ways Harassment in the Workplace May Happen

San Francisco employment lawyers identify common workplace harassment issues

harassment in the workplaceWorkplace harassment is prohibited when it is directed toward employees because of characteristics that are protected by discrimination laws. When it occurs in California, the workplace harassment lawyers at Minnis & Smallets can help employees seek a remedy.

California law prohibits workplace harassment that is based on an employee’s membership in a protected class, including harassment based on the employee’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, national origin or ancestry, disability, or age.

Workplace harassment that is based on protected characteristics is generally unlawful when the employee is required to tolerate it as a condition of employment, or when it is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. A work environment is hostile when a reasonable person would consider it intimidating or abusive. However,, an occasional offensive remark or inappropriate act might not constitute the kind of harassment that violates the law.

Unfortunately, managers are sometimes difficult to work for, and employees do not always treat each other well. Poor management skills or personal dislike might motivate a manager or an employee to create an uncomfortable work environment for other employees. The fact that a work environment is uncomfortable or abusive, however, does not by itself establish a violation of discrimination laws that forbid workplace harassment. To be unlawful, such harassment must be based on the employee’s membership in a protected class.

Here are five examples of ways in which workplace harassment might cross the line and violate the law:

Unwelcome Sexual Advances

Sexual advances that have not been invited and are not welcomed are among the most common forms of sexual harassment. It does not matter whether the advances come from someone who is of the same or opposite sex as the employee who receives them.

When sexual advances come from a “boss” — someone who has the power to influence the employee’s pay, promotional opportunities, or continued employment —acquiescing in the advance or at least tolerating it may be a condition of employment. Unwanted advances of that nature may violate the law even if they are not repeated.

When sexual advances are instigated by other employees and the advances are frequent and persistent, and if they continue after the employee makes it clear that the advances are unwelcome, the advances may be considered harassment in the workplace.

Employees who are subjected to unwelcome sexual advances and do not understand their rights should seek advice from a San Francisco employment lawyer.

Offensive Remarks

When offensive conduct in the workplace targets employees because of their membership in a protected class, and when that conduct is pervasive, employees may be subjected to a hostile work environment. Examples include:

  • Mocking an employee’s accent
  • Making fun of an employee’s “foreign-sounding” name
  • Subjecting an employee to racial slurs
  • Making derogatory references to an employee’s sex, gender identity, ancestry, or disability
  • Telling lewd or cruel jokes that target members of a protected class
  • Making offensive remarks about an employee’s religion

Employees may be required to report the conduct to the employer (usually by following a workplace harassment policy, if one exists) before pursuing a legal remedy. When harassment persists or becomes particularly severe or oppressive, however, employees may be best served by asking a San Francisco workplace harassment lawyer for advice.

Physical and Sexual Assaults

Assaults amount to workplace harassment when the employee who is assaulted has been targeted because of the employee’s race, sex, national origin, or membership in any other protected class. Sexual assaults are typically considered to have occurred because of the employee’s sex, gender, or sexual orientation.

Severe assaults do not necessarily need to be repeated before they will give rise to a legal remedy. Employment discrimination attorneys in San Francisco can help assaulted employees understand their legal rights.

Differential Treatment

When a manager bases job assignments on characteristics such as race, sex, or age, the employer is engaging in prohibited acts of discrimination. When employees who have no supervisory authority do the same thing, however, they may be creating a hostile work environment. Insisting that employees of a specific race or gender perform their work on older machines or work in a less comfortable area may create an uncomfortable and abusive situation that qualifies as workplace harassment.

Interference with Work Performance

When employees hide tools, sabotage an employee’s work, or refuse to provide ordinary assistance to an employee, they may be creating a hostile work environment. For example, when a disabled employee has been assigned to a work area where materials are accessible from a wheelchair, and co-workers deliberately move those materials out of the disabled employee’s reach, their interference with the disabled employee’s work performance may create a hostile work environment.

Help for Workplace Harassment

Employees who experience workplace harassment can seek advice from the San Francisco employment discrimination lawyers at Minnis & Smallets. We help employees and executives who face sexual harassment, racial harassment, and other unlawful forms of harassment in the workplace. To learn more, call us at 1-415-551-0885 or submit our online contact form.