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How to Handle Workplace Harassment

by Laurie Reeves

No one likes to be harassed, especially at work. If your boss or a co-worker is verbally abusing or harassing you, it's important to understand your rights under the law. Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct or behavior; but that doesn't mean the behavior is illegal. If you are in a protected class under federal civil rights laws, then any harassment you experience is more than likely illegal. The best way to handle workplace harassment is to address it head-on.

Definition of Harassment

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, any form of unwelcome conduct or behavior that adversely affects workers and the workplace is harassment. Illegal harassment involves racial slurs or epithets, unwanted physical conduct or threats, lewd jokes or demeaning remarks based upon a person's national origin, religion or physical disability. Everyone is free to be unpleasant at work, but people are not free to harass you because of your race, religion, age, gender, disability or national origin.

Keep a Record

Create a record of the harassment that you experienced. Write down the details of the event including date, time and the names of any witnesses that were present. Include all specifics of the event and a detailed account of what transpired. Include any comments you or others made, as well as the comments of the co-worker or supervisor who harassed you.

Approach the Person

Sometimes, people may say things they don't mean or they may not know that you were offended by their comments. Unless you let the offending person know that you consider his comments inappropriate, he will more than likely continue. Be honest and let him know that you were upset by his comments. In most cases, he will apologize for his behavior.

Company Procedures

Labor laws require that your employer take appropriate steps to ensure a hostility-free workplace and prevent discrimination. Review your company's policies and procedures to determine if the harassment you experienced is prohibited by your company. Follow the company's complaint procedures to report bad behavior if the problem is unresolved. If there is no policy, contact the human resources department to find out the procedure for reporting harassment.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If your employer fails to resolve the situation and the harassment continues, you can contact your state labor board or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These organizations will make a determination as to whether the harassment is illegal. If the harassment is illegal, the EEOC will conduct an investigation and may bring charges against your employer for allowing illegal harassment and a hostile work environment.

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