Can a what one employee consider a harmless joke be taken as workplace harassment by another employee? What is considered harassment? Everyone may have a differing opinion on what is considered harassment, but in the end we must look to how it is defined by our laws. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) harassment is conduct that is unwelcome by another when it is based on one of the following: race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age over 40 years, disability or genetic information. Although this seems to be a broad definition of the term harassment, it is applied mainly to conduct that is hostile, shows denigration or aversion to someone based on the above factors. Over the past few years more employers have taken increased steps to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
If harassment occurs an employer is obligated to stop the actions and help correct any damages caused by these actions. For example, if the company does not have a policy on harassment for the workplace a policy should be instituted and enforced to prevent future occurrences. Developing educational programs for the employees to help identify and prevent acts of harassment can also aid in the prevention of unwelcome actions that may not be recognized by all employees. Some people may not realize that certain actions are considered acts of harassment by another. By educating employees on what is considered harassment, an employer can reduce the chances of claims against the company.
Harassment should never be tolerated within an office. Employees expect their work environments to be places of cooperation and professionalism. It is important as a manager or human resource department to ensure the high standards of a company by initiating policies and procedures to prevent and correct any instances of workplace harassment.