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How to prevent harassment

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How to prevent harassment

At most, political correctness has taken over our lives. At the very least, it has taken over our livelihoods.

As a general rule, I think it sets a bad precedent. I don’t like it because it limits free speech (hey, I’m a journalist) and fosters entitlement and disrespect.

“I don’t like or agree with what you said, so I am going to hate you or report you to your boss or human resources.”

When did disagreeing with people, either individually or in a group, and respecting their opinions become mutually exclusive? A good example of bad behavior is the way Democrats and Republicans treat each other in Congress.

It just seems to me people are too sensitive nowadays.

Harassment in the workplace, however, is a different story, although there are rules in place designed to keep casual comments not meant to offend from being misinterpreted. The ultimate goal is to keep disrespect from either party to a minimum. If it becomes necessary to punish someone for legitimately unwelcome behavior, so be it.

When does harmless become harassment? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clearly defines harassment at great length at www.eeoc.gov.

“Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

“Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

“Petty slights, annoyances and isolated incidents, unless extremely serious, will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

“Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.”

According to the EEOC, harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

Also, unlawful harassment may occur “without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.”

The EEOC doesn’t use the word “unlawful” nonchalantly. Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates at least one of the following laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The employer is automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, and loss of wages. What are the appropriate steps employers should take to prevent and correct unlawful harassment? The EEOC says they “should clearly communicate to employees that unwelcome harassing conduct will not be tolerated. They can do this by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, providing anti-harassment training to their managers and employees, and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.” (At Modern Tire Dealer, we follow our parent company’s “Non-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedure.”)

“Employers should strive to create an environment in which employees feel free to raise concerns and are confident that those concerns will be addressed.

“Employees are encouraged to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Employees should also report harassment to management at an early stage to prevent its escalation.”

Use common sense whenever incidents occur. Then let the EEOC and your own process guide you.   ■

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at bob.ulrich@bobit.com.

Want to read more of Bob Ulrich's editorials? See:

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