Overview: In addition to sexual harassment in the workplace, federal law as well as most state law prohibits harassment against an individual based on his or her membership in a protected class. Therefore, individuals are protected from harassment based on race, national origin, religion, etc. Harassment may take the form of using insulting epithets, slurs or negative stereotypes; making rude and offensive jokes; threatening, intimidating or hostile acts; or written and graphic material such as cartoons that insult a particular individual or group based on that individual's or group's protected class.
To eliminate workplace harassment, employers should have a policy in place that strictly prohibits harassing behavior of any kind. All employees and supervisors should be provided with training on the policy. Further, employers should designate a multichannel reporting system to allow employees to bring workplace harassment complaints to the employer's attention. Further, employers should immediately respond to any complaints of harassment by investigating the matter and taking corrective action.
Trends: There a significant number of harassment lawsuits being brought based on race, age, religion etc. As the workplace becomes more diverse, this has led to an increase in harassment suits of all kind. The EEOC has recognized this and has recently brought suit against many employers based on various kinds of harassment.
In Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. (2013), the Supreme Court issued a critical decision which makes it more difficult for employees to prove that an employer is vicariously liable for a supervisor’s discriminatory or harassing conduct. Specifically, the Court held that a supervisor must be someone with the direct power and authority to take tangible employment actions against an employee. This issue is of primary importance when determining whether an employer is vicariously liable for a supervisor's actions in cases of harassment. Under the current law, if the harasser is a supervisor, the employer is automatically vicariously liable for the supervisor's actions. If the harasser is not a supervisor, the plaintiff must prove that the employer was negligent and that the employer knew or should have known of the harassment in order to be liable. This is a much higher burden to meet.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
A new State Sexual Harassment Training Requirements - Chart has been added to the Quick Reference Tool. This chart summarizes state requirements for private employers regarding sexual harassment training.
This chart covers private employer requirements by state for sexual harassment training and related record retention or notice communications. However, employers in all states should consider providing sexual harassment training in order to minimize liability risks due to a supervisor's inappropriate comments or because of a supervisor's failure to adequately address a harassment incident.
In-depth review of the spectrum of California employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to training and development.
As mandated by the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, all employers must post the Sexual Harassment poster.
Multistate employers face the challenge of complying with not only federal laws, but also differing state and local laws. This section highlights some of the states' differences in terms of preemployment testing and background checks, noncompetition and nonsolicitation agreements, and discrimination, pay and leave rules.
As mandated by the Vermont Department of Labor, every employer covered by the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act must post the Vermont Sexual Harassment Is Illegal poster.
In-depth review of the spectrum of Maryland employment law requirements HR must follow in respect to EEO discrimination.
The Discrimination and Harassment content has been enhanced with a new Supervisor Briefing on Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues in the Workplace
This Supervisor Briefing examines the law and best practices for understanding issues with respect to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the workplace including understanding frequently used terms, preventing and responding to incidents of harassment and discrimination, and handling sensitive issues such as dress codes, restrooms and transitioning employees.
A New Jersey Court has ruled that employers may impose reasonable weight and appearance requirements without violating gender discrimination laws under certain circumstances.
HR guidance on preventing and responding to workplace harassment, including instituting a policy, providing training to employees and supervisors, and immediately investigating harassment complaints.