The Differences Between Illegal Harassment and Workplace Bullying

The Differences Between Illegal Harassment and Workplace Bullying

When harassment is a regular occurrence in a workplace, that workplace may be labeled a hostile work environment. Hostile work environments can hinder every employee’s work performance, not just the victim’s. Instances of bullying in the workplace may be deemed acts of harassment if they fit the legal definition of harassment outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. When bullying does not fit this description, it can be just as harmful as legal harassment, but the victim does not have legal protection to take action to make it stop.

Harassment as Defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, harassing individuals in the workplace based on their race, sex, national origin, disability, religion, and other protected classes under the act is an act of discrimination. Workplace harassment that fits this description includes:

  • Directing crude, derogatory, or otherwise offensive remarks and jokes at the victim;
  • Touching the victim without his or her consent;
  • Subjecting the victim to offensive photograph, videos, or other material;
  • Interfering with his or her job performance;
  • Intimidating the victim into behaving a certain way; and
  • Insulting the victim.

Examples of Workplace Bullying

Bullying in the workplace, though cruel and destructive, is not illegal per se. When bullying can be defined as harassment as illustrated above and when it becomes an act of assault, it is illegal. But when it occurs for a reason not included in the Civil Rights Act, like harassment based on a victim’s style of dress, personality, or simply due to a disagreement between parties in the workplace, the victim cannot file a harassment claim to seek relief and compensation for his or her damages. Actions like the following are perfectly legal in the workplace:

  • Ignoring and invalidating others;
  • Excluding colleagues from discussions, social events, or projects;
  • Being rude in interactions with colleagues; and
  • Making fun of others in the workplace.

Recognizing the Difference and Taking Appropriate Action

When you witness bullying in the workplace, choose not to engage with the bully. Instead, support the victim and make it a priority to ensure that they are heard, validated, and treated with respect in the workplace. Beyond being an ally, there is not much you can do when you work with a bully.

When harassment occurs, on the other hand, you can support the victim by providing testimony that supports his or her harassment claim. If you have documentation of the harassment, you can also provide this as evidence to support his or her claim.

Work with an Experienced Illinois Employment Lawyer

When you feel your rights in the workplace were violated, discuss your case with an experienced employment lawyer to determine if you have grounds to file and pursue a harassment claim. Contact our team at The Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline today to set up your initial consultation with us.