Sexual and Non-Sexual Workplace Harassment

Sexual and Non-Sexual Workplace Harassment

Many people are confused about the difference between “bullying” and “harassment.” In some cases, these two words are synonymous. But in other cases, that is not true. Bullying is usually belligerent behavior targeted at a certain individual, and harassment can sometimes be conduct that some people find offensive.

The issue is more complicated because there are different types of “harassment.” Many workers experience both sexual and non-sexual harassment.

Hopefully, this guide can clear up some of this confusion. This post may help workers determine if they have been victims of harassment, and how an attorney can help.

The Legal Definition of Harassment

Sexual harassment probably first entered the national consciousness in the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. There are basically two types of sexual harassment in Illinois:

  • Quid Pro Quo: Employers cannot make any action contingent on any sexual favor. That includes extreme instances like “let’s discuss this promotion over dinner,” as well as less obvious situations, like “I’ll get you a cup of coffee if I get a smile first.”
  • Hostile Environment: This area of sexual harassment is a bit more subjective because everyone has a different breaking point. It is certain that a one-off crude remark does not constitute a hostile environment.

Sexual harassment victims deserve compensation for their economic damages, such as lost wages, as well as their noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.

Non-sexual harassment is also a serious problem in many Chicagoland workplaces. In almost all cases, the harassment is not directed at an individual and may not even be intentional. Generally, non-sexual harassment must involve a protected class, such as:

  • Race,
  • National origin,
  • Gender,
  • Age, or
  • Sexual orientation.

In the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, “sexual orientation” is broadly defined and may encompass transgender individuals.

If the comments or other behaviors are offensive or threatening to a reasonable person in any protected class, the act probably constitutes harassment.

Some Harassment Examples

“Harassment” sometimes means different things in different contexts. Symbols are particularly troublesome, some, like the Confederate flag or the Gadsden flag mean different things to different people. But generally, harassment includes conduct like:

  • Sharing inappropriate images or gifts among co-workers,
  • Negative comments about a religion,
  • Displaying inappropriate images or computer wallpaper at a workstation,
  • Excessive proselytizing (persuading someone to change religious affiliations),
  • Making sexual comments about a person’s appearance or clothing,
  • Any inappropriate touching or gazing,
  • Using racist nicknames or other racially-charged language,
  • Asking sexual questions, and
  • Making derogatory comments about a person’s age, sexual orientation, or other protected status.

Procedurally, harassment victims must first alert their supervisors and give their employers a chance to investigate and deal with the matter. If this outcome is unsatisfactory, and it often is, the victim must next approach a government watchdog and then go to an attorney.

Count on an Aggressive Lawyer

Workplace harassment can be either sexual or non-sexual, and it can take many forms. For a free consultation with an experienced employment law attorney in Chicago, contact the Law Office of Mitchell Kline. After-hours visits are available.