It is often hard to recognize workplace harassment, mostly because harassment changes over time. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently ruled that the “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden Flag, a Revolutionary War symbol, could be racist in certain workplace environments.
Workplace harassment may change, but the response to harassment is generally unchanging. A Chicago employment attorney can do more than put a stop to harassment. A lawyer can also obtain financial compensation in these cases for losses like back pay, lost future pay, and related costs, like job search expenses.
Types of Workplace Harassment
Generally, if the job environment makes you feel uncomfortable and you are in a protected class, you may have a harassment claim.
That uncomfortable feeling must be objectively reasonable. Profanity is a good non-work example. Some words that are on many TV shows are offensive to some people. Indeed, the language may be so offensive to them that the program makes them feel angry or sick to their stomachs. These feelings are genuine, but they are not objectively reasonable.
Furthermore, the harassment must affect a protected class or involve a protected behavior. Some examples include:
- Race: Context is key. The aforementioned Gadsden Flag is obviously not racist all the time, but it could be in some situations. On a similar note, the Anti-Defamation League recently added the “OK” sign to its list of hate symbols. Once again, context and a reasonable reaction are often key.
- Hostile Environment: Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, but nearly all these victims are women. Usually, environments are hostile if the harassment is so bad that it prevents people from doing their jobs or from going to certain places in the office.
- Quid Pro Quo: These arrangements are not always explicit. In fact, they are generally subtle. “Let’s talk about this over lunch” is a good example. While there was no specific promise of action, the strong implication is usually enough.
Other protected classes include workers over 40 and disabled individuals. A “disability” is any condition which inhibits daily activities. Substance addiction and obesity can both be disabilities in some situations.
The EEOC’s Response
Typically, workplace harassment victims must first turn to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for relief. This federal agency enforces job discrimination laws such as the Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This rule, which is called exhaustion, is not as strict as it used to be, but it is still a requirement in most cases.
Like other government agencies, the EEOC has a political agenda. If a particular claim fits within that agenda, the EEOC often investigates. In other situations, these bureaucrats usually issue right-to-sue letters.
The same result often occurs unless the claim is an easy win and involves large damages. Since it is one of the smallest government agencies, EEOC caseworkers are chronically overworked. If the case has any difficulties or is not a headline-grabbing affair, investigators often pass.
So, if the EEOC refuses to stand up for your rights, that does not mean your case is weak. It just means that you need to work with an attorney who believes in you.
Reach Out to an Aggressive Lawyer
Workplace harassment occurs every day in Illinois. For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago employment discrimination attorney, contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline. We routinely handle matters in Cook County and nearby jurisdictions.