Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates several Federal laws. Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or status as a protected veteran, or protected activity (such as filing a discrimination complaint or participating in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit). State and local laws may prohibit additional types of harassment.

You are responsible for preventing and stopping harassment by anyone, including senior leaders, supervisors, employees, and people who are not employees, such as customers or service providers. You are automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action for an employee such as such as termination, failing to promote or hire, or loss of wages.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) generally are not illegal. 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 putdowns, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including:

  • the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a coworker, or a non-employee;
  • the victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct;
  • unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

Sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, is unlawful when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted. Offensive remarks about a person’s sex may also be illegal. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by repeatedly making offensive comments about women in general.

Questions? We’re here to help.

We are committed to helping you understand your responsibilities as an employer. Many questions about your responsibilities may be answered by using the following elaws (Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses) Advisors:

  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP): 1-800-397-6251 (TTY 1-877-889-5627) or the OFCCP Help Desk
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): 1-800-669-4000 or info@eeoc.gov
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