While a lot of progress has been made, it is a sad reality that workplace discrimination and harassment continue to be prevalent in a lot of work environments. Local, state and federal anti-discrimination laws exist to protect every worker, affording them the legal protection against discriminatory or harassing treatment in the workplace. Even with such protections in place, not all employers and co-workers follow the law. If you find that you are being harassed in the workplace, knowing your rights is essential.
Harassment Or Discrimination?
The characteristics of harassment and discrimination are similar in many ways, it is important to understand the difference. Workplace discrimination is defined as a situation where an employee is subjected to unfair treatment that is primarily based on being a member of a specific minority group based on age, gender, race, disability, national origin, genetic information, and sex (as is the case with pregnancy). In the workplace and elsewhere there are several protected groups, or classes, but, unfortunately, this does not mean that every group is protected. Any person who experiences discrimination due to their status as a person of a legally protected group.
Harassment, on the other hand, is defined as consistent insulting, abusive behavior or conduct towards an employee that is generally viewed as biased toward certain protected groups. Since the two definitions overlap somewhat, harassment is recognized as punitive actions in a work setting. For example, a manager may harass a subordinate employee by purposely failing to promote them, denying privileges afforded to other employees, or even verbal attacks that contribute to a consistently hostile work environment. Harassment can occur between management and subordinates but no one is immune; many times, people experience harassment from their peers as well.
If you are not familiar with the law, it can be hard to determine if what you are experiencing at work is considered discrimination or harassment. If you believe you are in a hostile work environment, consulting with an attorney can help clarify what you have been experiencing and advise you of your legal options.
The Consequences Of Workplace Harassment And Discrimination
Experiencing unjust treatment at work affects the targeted employee as well as co-workers, which can negatively affect morale leading to poor performance and high turnover. Some employees do not report potentially discriminatory conduct for fear of retaliation or even harsher treatment. Others may feel that if they report the behavior, nothing will be done, however, the only way to change things is to speak up. Reporting workplace harassment is important should you decide to take legal action, as it helps prove that your employer was made aware of the behavior.
What To Do If You Are Being Harassed
Workplace harassment may make you feel powerless, but there are several things you can before seeking legal advice. The following are some steps you take if you are being harassed or facing discrimination in the workplace:
Keep A Record
Use a notebook to keep track of any time discriminatory or biased treatment takes place. Whenever possible, try to write things down immediately so you do no forget important details.
Find A Witness
Chances are, one of your colleagues has witnessed one or more encounters that allow them to identify who was involved and what was said. If you experience harassment or discrimination in the presence of a co-worker, discuss the incident with them to get their account of what happened. Always be sure that the coworker is willing to serve as a witness should you decide to pursue legal action.
Save The Evidence
Sometimes, harassment is not verbal so it is important to save any physical evidence of harassment. Harassing emails, voicemails, or notes should be retained, as these items will be vital to proving harassment or discriminatory practices.
Do Not Wait
When it comes to proving harassment, there are some State and Federal time limits on reporting workplace violations. To avoid missing the window to take action, create a plan as soon as you are subjected to unfair treatment.
Ask For Support
If you have experienced discrimination, harassment, or both in the workplace, it is a good idea to reach out to someone who you can trust and talk to about your situation.
Seek Help From An Employment Law Expert
Solving workplace discrimination and unequal treatment through the appropriate legal channels will help you work without fear of retaliation from your employer or fellow employees. A lawyer will review the facts and, even if it is determined that no laws were violated, they may be able to provide practical advice to improve your work environment. Seeking legal advice is the first step in taking control of the situation. Knowing your rights in the workplace will not only put a stop to harassing or discriminatory behavior, it will also help improve productivity without the fear of adverse treatment. If you believe you have been discriminated against, seek the help of an experienced employment law attorney.
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