The Many Faces of Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment rightfully gets the bulk of attention when drafting prevention and reporting policies or training employees on proper workplace conduct.  However, managers should not stop there.  In California, there are as many as ten other types of harassment claims that businesses must do everything reasonably possible to prevent.

Workplace “harassment” can be broadly defined as any behavior that a person would find sufficiently threatening or disturbing to affect his or her ability to perform on the job.  California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA) and related federal laws protect employees from unlawful harassment and discrimination on the basis of a worker’s age (40 years old and over), color, religious creed, disability (physical or mental), gender, medical condition, national origin, race, marital status (e.g, married, divorced), genetic profile, and sexual orientation.

Harassment comes in many shapes and sizes. For example:

  • Verbal or written: Comments about a person’s appearance, personal behavior or body; jokes about a person’s religion, sexual orientation, etc.; telling rumors about a person’s personal life; threatening a person;
  • Nonverbal: Looking up and down a person’s body; derogatory gestures or facial expressions; following a person;
  • Physical: Threatening harmful contact (assault); impeding or blocking movement; inappropriate touching of a person or a person’s clothing;
  • Visual: Posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of an offending or demeaning nature.

Under the FEHA and other employment laws, California employers can be liable for encouraging or condoning unlawful workplace harassment.  Both the law and common sense dictate that a business take all reasonable precautions to prevent workplace harassment as well as quickly and fairly properly investigate and resolve any such complaint within the office.

For help with discrimination or harassment claims against your business or for any employment law related matter, please contact us.

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