The most common form of discrimination happens in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination, where the employer is responsible for creating or allowing a “hostile work environment.” There are laws against discrimination in any facet of employment, it can be discrimination during the hiring and firing process, but it can also happen during the course of your employment. An employer may not discriminate against based on the following criteria:
- Age (Over 40)
- Skin Color
- National Origin
- Mental or Physical Disability
- Genetic Information
- Relationship to someone who may be discriminated against
- Pregnancy or Parenthood
Some examples are:
- Specifying the above criteria in a job advertisement (Examples: Waitress, Able Bodied, Young Lady, Strong Man, Youthful)
- Excluding potential employees during the recruitment process (Example: Only men were interviewed for a position, even though many women applied.)
- Denying some staff compensation or benefits (Example: The younger employees are given all the overtime.)
- Paying equally-qualified workers, with the same job description and experience, different salaries (Example: The German employees are paid more than the Dutch employees.)
- Discriminating when assigning disability leave, maternity leave, or retirement options (Example: An older worker is given less disability leave, in the hope they will retire.)
- Denying or disrupting the use of company facilities (Example: There are not enough restrooms for women and they have to wait in line.)
- Discrimination when issuing promotions or lay-offs (Example: The French workers are always getting promoted, whereas the British workers are not.)
Sexual Harassment and the Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment is an environment that is difficult or uncomfortable for another person to work in due to discrimination. The most common type is sexual harassment which might include fondling, suggestive remarks, sexually-suggestive photos displayed in the workplace, use of sexual language, or off-color jokes. If a co-worker makes an offensive joke once, you report it to your employer, the employer speaks to the co-worker and it never happens again – that is NOT harassment or a hostile work environment. Your employer did that they were supposed to do and succeeded in properly protecting you.
To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person. An employer can be held liable for failing to prevent these workplace conditions, unless it can prove that it attempted to prevent the harassment and that the employee failed to take advantage of existing harassment counter-measures or tools provided by the employer.
A hostile work environment may also be created when management acts in a manner designed to make an employee quit in retaliation for some action. For example, if an employee reported safety violations at work, was injured, attempted to join a union, or reported regulatory violations by management, and management’s response was to harass and pressure the employee to quit. Employers have tried to force employees to quit by imposing unwarranted discipline, reducing hours, cutting wages, or transferring the complaining employee to a distant work location.
The United States Supreme Court stated in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. that Title VII is “not a general civility code.” Thus, federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. Rather, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the individual’s employment. The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action or is sufficiently severe or pervasive.
Please call us at 718-261-8114 if you have been a victim of discrimination.