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Employment Law: Employee FAQ

Understanding Different Types of Harassment

Many people may believe that sexual harassment is the one and only type of harassment that can happen to employees. In reality, sexual harassment is perhaps one of the most common forms of harassing behavior, but it is by far not the only one. In fact, many federal, state, and local government anti-discrimination laws have very specific provisions prohibiting harassment for what are sometimes very unique classes of individuals. The following is a primer on some other types of harassment that may occur in the workplace or elsewhere.

General Definition

A harassment claim may exist where the employer or its agents have created a hostile work environment harassment, which has been defined as a pervasive atmosphere of severe or unwelcome working conditions that have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual employee’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. There is no requirement that the hostile environment claim be based on verbal insults, slurs, or derogatory remarks; rather, a hostile environment claim can be based on either verbal or nonverbal behavior.

Some Examples of Harassment Prohibited

  • Harassment Based on Race, Religion, Sex, Age, Disability, and/or National Origin: Harassment based on sex, race, national origin, religion, age, and disability discriminates in the terms and conditions of employment and violates federal job discrimination laws, including Title VII, the ADA, and ADEA.
  • Marital Status: Some statutes and ordinances in state and local jurisdictions have found that harassment on the basis of marital status is illegal.
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification: Some statutes and ordinances in state and local jurisdictions have found that harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status is illegal. In some states, the fair employment practices law or constitution has been interpreted by the courts to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Status as a Veteran or Member of the Military: Federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace against veterans, active members of the uniformed services, and the National Guard or Reserves, may provide protections from harassment on the basis of one’s status as a veteran.
  • Political Beliefs: There are certain protections offered to public employees protecting them from discrimination on the job due to their political affiliation or beliefs. In another example, the Code for the City of Seattle, Washington prohibits discrimination on the basis of political ideology.
  • Criminal History: A handful of jurisdictions, such as Wisconsin and New York, and some private employers and institutions, have laws or policies that prohibit discrimination, including in some cases protection against harassment, on the bases of arrest records or conviction records.
  • Occupation or Sources of Income: Some jurisdictions, including the City of Chicago have an anti-discrimination law or ordinance prohibiting discrimination and harassment based upon sources of income. A few states, and some local jurisdictions, prohibit discrimination with respect to the terms and conditions of employment on the basis of a person’s receipt of public assistance benefits.
  • Citizenship Status: Some jurisdictions, including New York and Illinois, have statutes or ordinances prohibiting discrimination and harassing speech that is based upon citizenship status and, in the case of New York, alienage as well.
  • Heritage: Some jurisdictions, including the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, prohibit discrimination with respect to terms or conditions of employment based on Appalachian regional origin. However, courts have refused to grant such regional protected classes, for example refusing to allow a Title VII action to proceed for discrimination against an individual for being a Confederate Southerner.
  • Smokers and Nonsmokers: A number of states have statutes that prohibit discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of a person’s status as a smoker, or as a nonsmoker in some states.

Warning: The examples given above are not meant to be a comprehensive review of all laws relating to harassment, but rather to provide you some guidelines as to the types of characteristics that may be protected. They should not be substituted for a comprehensive review of your specific situation under all of the applicable laws and regulations.

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