How to Prove Harassment in the Workplace

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Everyone has an idea about what harassment is. They know it when they see it, and they know it’s wrong. However, proving harassment requires that you understand the term as it’s defined by law. That can make workplace claims a little trickier for most. Here’s what you need to know to prove harassment in the workplace. 

Legally Defining Harassment

First, you need to know what the legal definition of harassment is as it applies to a workplace. There are four main categories that define this type of conduct, which include:

Being based on a victim’s protected characteristics

Offensive words, gestures, and actions

Unwelcome conduct of any kind

Severe or pervasive conduct that affects a worker’s employment

Understanding Protected Characteristics

This is where discrimination comes into play, which harassment is a form of under the law. Conduct targeting a victim’s age, race, gender, disability, ethnicity, and more are all illegal. These are protected characteristics in the legal system, determined by federal law. 

Title VII, the Age Discrimination Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act all help further define the illegality of harassment and discrimination. There are also state and local laws that add onto the federal ones. 

Understanding Offensive Conduct

This aspect of harassment is perhaps the largest. Jokes, name calling, slurs, and threats are all examples. These are often based on someone’s protected characteristics. Sexual harassment can also qualify as offensive conduct, most often in what are known as “quid pro quo” cases. 

In these scenarios, someone is made to put up with advances or harassment in order to keep their job, land a promotion, or receive a raise. You should speak with sexual harassment lawyers in OC if you or someone else in your workplace is experience these quid pro quo scenarios. 

Offensive conduct can also be heavily based on race or ethnicity. A Jewish worker assigned to bookkeeping simply for being a Jew is a prime example. Making “jokes” about the KKK to an African American would be another. Mimicking a disability would also qualify as offensive. Keep in mind that this form of conduct is case by case. 

Unwelcome Conduct

This is where sexual harassment gets most of the focus, as unwanted advancements or physical conduct are clear signs of harassment. This Los Angeles workplace harassment attorney handles plenty of cases like these year after year. However, there’s more to unwelcome conduct than sexual nature. 

Threatening violence, using offensive or derogatory terms, or any form of unwanted physical contact can all be unwelcome by the recipient. Your harasser, however, could prove in court that you also make unwelcome comments that do not make you uncomfortable. This is why professionalism in the workplace is so important. 

Conduct That is Severe and Pervasive

Generally speaking, proving harassment under the law requires a series of patterns or incidents. One isolated incident is rarely enough. However, severe conduct is categorized as an extreme single incident. Physical assault, for instance, would be enough under the law to prove your case. 

As for pervasive, that extends to the circumstances surrounding your claim. Courts examine each incident in its own context, determining how egregious the conduct was in each. There are no specific number of times harassment needs to take place. Instead, courts look at the criteria discussed in this article to make a determination. 

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