Three federal laws prohibit most instances of workplace harassment in Ohio. After briefly describing each, we will explain what constitutes illegal harassment and what victims of harassment can do. We focus on the federal statutes because Ohio’s workplace harassment laws match them almost exactly.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to insult, bully, mistreat, or discriminate against workers and job applicants based on their sex, race or skin color, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Additional protections against sexual harassment were later added under a law referred to as Title IX, which applies to schools and educational programs that accept federal funds, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which provides employment protections to women who are pregnant and to new mothers who return to work. Federal courts have found that provisions of Title VII and Title IX cover harassment based on gender and sexual orientation.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or ADEA, prohibits discrimination and harassment of employees and job seekers who are older than 40. Under the ADEA, an employer cannot pressure an older worker to change jobs or retire after reaching a certain age unless it can show that age itself contributes to making an individual incapable of fulfilling all the requirements of the current job. Related to this, the ADEA bars employers from writing job descriptions that specify or suggest that only younger people should apply.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and later amendments ensure that workers and job applicants can request reasonable accommodations and perform jobs up to their full capacity without worrying about being penalized or automatically denied employment opportunities. The ADA compels employers to consider accommodation requests in good faith and to engage with employees or job seekers regarding what can be done without altering the nature of a job, unfairly disadvantaging coworkers or other applicants, or incurring excessive expense.
On its website, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains, “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.”
The EEOC then lists harassing actions as including, but “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.”
Essential takeaways from these definitions are that workplace harassment is more than teasing or random comments, and that harassment comes in many forms. Speaking with an experienced and knowledgeable Ohio harassment and discrimination lawyer will help clarify when reporting actions by managers or coworkers makes sense.
Every employer is required to have policies and procedures in place to receive complaints, investigate and resolve violations of Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA. While a victim of workplace harassment has an undeniable right to consult with and seek representation from an attorney at any time, the official complaint process should always start by making a report to a supervisor or HR rep.
When an employer cannot or will not resolve a problem, the victim can file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC or Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
Employment attorneys with The Friedmann Firm offer free and confidential consultations to workers in Ohio who are suffering harassment at work. We take appointments online and over the phone at (614) 610-9755, and we can step in at any point of the reporting or legal process.