What Constitutes Harassment in the Workplace?

Oct 31, 2017
By Peter Friedmann

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains on its website that “harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”

The agency also states that “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.” Reporting such mistreatment is protected as an exercise of one’s rights. An employer that abuses, demotes, reassigns, or fires a worker who complains about harassment can be sued under the same laws that were put in place to prevent the harassment in the first place.


As hostile work environment attorneys in Columbus, Ohio, the lawyers with The Friedmann Firm have these definitions memorized. At the same time, we know that the official agency language itself does little to actually highlight what actions constitute harassment in the workplace, who harasses, who suffers harassment, and what victims of harassment can do to hold harassers accountable for their harmful and illegal behaviors.


We offer brief clarifications here and welcome requests for advice on how to handle real-life situations involving potential harassment. Consultations are free and confidential, so please call us at (614) 610-9755 or fill out this online contact form to schedule an appointment with an experienced Columbus hostile work environment lawyer.


Examples of Workplace Harassment

Most people hear “harassment” and think “sexual harassment.” The problem is much broader. As the EEOC notes, an employee or job applicant can suffer harassment for nearly any reason, from their race and sex to their age and physical abilities.


A partial list of behaviors that can support a workplace harassment claim includes

  • Insults
  • Racial slurs
  • Offensive nicknames
  • Offensive pictures
  • Sabotage
  • Threats
  • Pressure to date or have sex
  • Unwanted touching
  • Physical assaults


Who Harasses Whom?

Anyone can suffer workplace harassment at the hands of anyone else. Co-workers, managers, customers, and vendors can cross the line from friendly teasing or playful banter to causing real harm. Men can harass men, and women can harass women. Subordinates can harass superiors, and harassment can occur online as well as in person.


What Can Be Done About Workplace Harassment?

One of the most important reasons to consult with a knowledgeable hostile work environment lawyer in Columbus is that a single insult or an isolated unwanted sexual advance probably will not support a harassment claim, no matter how much discomfort the inappropriate behavior caused. Partnering with a legal ally to document a persistent and genuinely harmful pattern of mistreatment will make it possible to end the behavior and receive compensation.

Another reason to work with an attorney who has a strong track record for helping victims of workplace harassment is that numerous federal and state laws cover harassment. Filing a complaint under the most-applicable provisions of the most applicable law greatly increases the likelihood that the victim will succeed.

To share another partial list, all the following federal laws make workplace harassment in unique and overlapping ways:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans mistreatment of current workers and jobseekers on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, and national origin
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against workers and job applicants older than 40
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars gender discrimination against students and staff in schools, colleges, universities, and vocational training programs
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which protects women who become pregnant and give birth from losing their jobs or getting reassigned
  • The Americans with Disability Act, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants who have physical or mental limitations


Seeking compensation and remedial action under each law requires navigating different processes and, often, going through a civil lawsuit. Contact a Columbus employment lawyer today.