Workplace harassment is a form of federally prohibited discrimination. Prohibited harassment is unwelcome behavior based on age, sex, religion, race, color, national origin, or disability. The harasser may be a supervisor, coworker, or third party. Note that others who witness harassment but are not the target of harassment may also claim a hostile work environment. You do not need to lose your job, be demoted, or receive a pay cut to be a victim of illegal harassment. If you are in a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment, you may be a victim of workplace harassment.

What is considered workplace harassment

Workplace harassment includes the following:

  • Offensive slurs, name-calling, ridicule, or insults.

  • Physical assaults or threats of harm.

  • Inappropriate objects or pictures displayed in the workplace.

  • Activity that interferes with your ability to do your job.

Reporting workplace harassment

If you believe you are a victim of workplace harassment, begin by informing the harasser that his or her actions are inappropriate and unwelcome. Report harassment to company managers as soon as possible. This will allow them to take action and to establish that they aware of the situation.

If it was aware of the harassment and failed to take action to stop it, your company can be found liable for harassment from any workers on the premises, from supervisors to nonemployees.

If your company is unresponsive, you may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must file with the EEOC within 180 days after the alleged harassment took place, and you must file before pursuing any private lawsuit. Your state may also have antidiscrimination laws that may apply; seek out the appropriate state agency to report harassment.

Taking legal action for workplace harassment

You may file a lawsuit and request compensation for lost wages or career opportunity, or for psychological damages, in which case getting a lawyer is advised. However, if you have filed a complaint with the EEOC, it may take action without your having to sue. In 2006, EEOC handled more than 23,000 harassment charges, resolving most of them that year and recovering nearly $60 million in benefits to charging groups and individuals.

Additional resources:

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Harassment

EEOC: Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Related Legal Guides:

Sexual Harassment of Women in the Military