How to File a Harassment Complaint at Work
The average American clocks in at least 40 hours a week at their job. That’s a lot of time that we spend working—even if we don’t count the mental load that comes with bringing work home, and the burden of unpaid housework and childcare typically borne by women.
With a third of our lives spent at work, it is essential that our work environments are healthy and pleasant enough. But for many Americans going through workplace harassment, feeling comfortable at work may seem like a farfetched dream. If you’re experiencing bullying or discrimination in the workplace, keep on reading to find out how to resolve the issue in the most straightforward manner possible.
What is Workplace Harassment?
Do you know what it means when somebody is harassing you? Harassment can take many different forms and it can take place in different environments, including in-person, over the phone, and on the Internet. When repeated, the harassment might technically count as stalking (both in-person and online). If this is the case, learn more about how to stop a stalker or get a restraining order.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” It is also a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
It’s unknown exactly how many employees experience bullying, as the EEOC reported that, on average, anywhere from 87% to 94% of affected individuals do not file a formal harassment complaint.
Types of Workplace Harassment
Not every undesirable conduct or incident qualifies as workplace harassment in the eyes of law. It becomes unlawful when enduring it becomes a condition for employment, or when the harassing conduct is so extreme that it creates an adverse or intimidating working environment.
Before filing a complaint, you should be absolutely sure that what you experienced was illegal.
According to the EEOC, “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.” To be unlawful, “the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”
Workplace harassment comes in many different shapes and forms. While sexual workplace harassment tends to get the most attention from the media and the general public, there are many other ways an employee can feel threatened, abused, or intimidated in their place of work.
We take a closer look at the most common types of workplace harassment:
- Discriminatory harassment
- Religion-based harassment
- Personal harassment
- Psychological harassment
- Power harassment
- Physical harassment
- Sexual harassment
- Verbal harassment
- Third-party harassment
Discriminatory harassment in the workplace occurs when an employee is mocked, humiliated, or treated as less competent based on their race, skin color, gender, age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
The Internet is rife with testimonials from people who have encountered all kinds of workplace discrimination. A Quora user of Asian descent described numerous instances when he was turned away from job interviews at Italian and Western-style restaurants. “This is an Italian restaurant, so we’d like an Italian chef...not a Chinese guy.”, and “Chinese guys don’t know anything about Southern BBQ.”, are just some of the shocking things prospective employers said to him during the interview process.
If your employer or colleagues are showing disrespect or even hatred towards you because of your religion, you’re dealing with workplace harassment based on religion. If you’re not granted a day’s leave for a religious holiday that you’re celebrating, this is also religious discrimination.
A religious employee may be accused of harassing others by proselytizing or spreading the faith to his or her colleagues against their will.
This type of harassment doesn’t hinge on protective clauses (such as the categories covered under discriminatory harassment) but is linked to the harasser’s general disregard or dislike of the employee. Personal harassment often comes in the form of derogatory comments or jokes about the victim or their appearance, style, manner of speaking, life circumstances, etc.
Purposefully leaving out an employee, denying their presence, discrediting or ignoring everything they say or do, spreading lies and gossip about them is considered psychological harassment in the workplace. Victims of workplace psychological harassment tend to feel belittled on a personal and professional level, which can have a further impact on their well-being and life outside of work.
Somebody abusing their position of power in the hierarchy of the company (even if it’s relative power) constitutes power harassment. For example, if your manager is asking you to bring him or her coffee every day, even though it’s not in your job description, they are abusing their power over you. Another typical example involves your workplace superior assigning you lengthy, non-urgent tasks to be completed by the end of the workday—half an hour before the end of shift.
Harassing behavior in the workplace that involves the use of physical force or threats of physical force is considered physical harassment. For instance, if your boss threateningly shakes their fists at you, or your colleague hits you or destroys a piece of your property in anger, you’re being physically harassed at work.
Sexual harassment covers a wide range of inappropriate behavior that’s sexual in nature (which may or may not be physical). It can include unsolicited sexual content, requests for dates or sexual favors, derogatory or lewd comments about the victim’s appearance, crass comments or jokes, and inappropriate touching or gestures.
Sexual harassment seems to affect workers of both genders, all ages and seniority levels, and in each industry. This Reddit user described her experience of workplace sexual harassment when she was working in the food industry: “When I worked in food, one of my managers would slap me on the butt or rub up against me every time he walked behind me. He also was constantly asking me what I saw in my then-boyfriend and how I could have a ‘real man’ if I wanted. I just put up with it because the job was temporary, and I would be moving in a few months.”
Stories such as these have become all too common, especially since the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have encouraged countless victims to speak up and share their experiences of sexual harassment.
Verbal harassment refers to the use of offensive, inflammatory, or rude language in the workplace. If you propose an idea during a meeting and your manager tells you to “shut your mouth” because “this is the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard,” you have a case of workplace verbal harassment on your hands.
Any kind of work-related harassment that occurs online is known as workplace cyberbullying. If a colleague or boss is tagging you in inappropriate posts, bombarding you with unsolicited and disturbing messages, or sharing lies and humiliating rumors about you on the Internet, it’s clear that they are cyberbullying you.
Third-party harassment refers to all types of harassing behavior by the vendors, suppliers, customers, or clients of the company. The victims of third-party harassment are generally staff members who deal with external companies and representatives the most, such as receptionists, salespeople, and assistants.
Distinguishing Between Sexual and Non-Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Workplace sexual harassment seems to be the most common type of workplace harassment, and certainly the one garnering public attention. One of the most significant effects of the #MeToo movement was to prove to the Americans and people all over the world just how far-reaching sexual harassment really is.
Still, not all workplace harassment is sexual in nature, which is why it’s vital to draw a clear demarcation line between sexual and non-sexual workplace harassment.
Sexual Workplace Harassment
Non-Sexual Workplace Harassment
The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Harassment in the Workplace
If you are experiencing workplace harassment, it’s essential to keep in mind some basic advice that will help you achieve the best possible outcome in this challenging situation. Here is a list of things you should and should not do if you’re the victim of workplace harassment.
How to Report Harassment at Work
You’ve done your research and made sure that what you’re experiencing in your job is workplace harassment. Now it’s time to stand up to your harasser and take action against them.
- Refer to your company’s policy on harassment. If you’re not sure where to find it, look at your company’s employee handbook or ask someone in the Human Resources department
- If your company has a harassment policy, follow the policy’s guidelines on how to report the misconduct
- If there’s no such policy, talk to someone in the HR department and tell them that you would like to report harassment
What should you do if the person who is harassing you is the one you’re supposed to report the harassment to? This can happen when a company states that employees should report harassment to their direct supervisor. If this is the case, inform your HR department about the harassment and explain why you weren’t able to follow the usual procedure. If you’re working for a smaller company that doesn’t have an HR department, make the complaint to someone that’s higher up in the command chain, like your manager’s manager.
The Law Protects Your Right to Report Harassment
It’s important to understand that your employer cannot punish you for reporting or complaining about harassment. It is your legal right to report harassment, oppose it, or participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit. The company is legally prohibited from firing you or demoting you for it.
How to File a Harassment Complaint to the EEOC
If reporting harassment to your HR department or supervisor has taken you nowhere, it’s time to take matters upstairs. To file a harassment or discrimination complaint to the EEOC, follow these steps:
- Submit an inquiry on the EEOC online portal to determine if the EEOC is the right agency to deal with your claim
- If the EEOC is the adequate agency to manage your complaint, file a Charge of Discrimination through the online portal
- The EEOC will then schedule the intake interview and guide you through the next steps
After you file your complaint, the EEOC will investigate the claim and might try to settle the case between you and your employer.
Things to Keep in Mind When Filing With the EEOC
What else should you bear in mind during the process of filing a Charge of Discrimination to the EEOC?
- In general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the last incident happened
- The deadline to file a charge is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis
- Be prepared to discuss and explain the harassment or discrimination that occurred
- An individual, organization, or agency may file a charge on your behalf if you don’t want your identity revealed
- If the EEOC is unable to determine that a law was violated, you will be given the right to sue and will have 90 days to file a lawsuit
- Your employer is legally prohibited from firing or demoting you because you filed a complaint with the EEOC
Reporting Workplace Harassment With the Aid of DoNotPay
Thanks to our AI-powered virtual lawyer, you can now take steps against workplace harassment on the DoNotPay app. Follow these simple steps:
- Access DoNotPay in your web browser
- Click on the Relationship Protection button
- Go to Explore Relationship Services
- Select Safety and Stalking, then choose Let’s Do It
- Select Stalking from the provided options—this will also cover harassment
- Provide answers to the chatbot’s questions
Once the chatbot collects all the required information, DoNotPay will generate a cease and desist letter on your behalf. This letter, addressed to the person who is harassing you, will ask them to stop their behavior immediately.
Even if the cease and desist letter doesn’t fall on fertile ground, and the individual continues to harass you, you will be able to use the letter as proof that you’ve tried to resolve the issue by yourself. The letter will also let the harasser know that you intend to take legal action against them if they persist in their harassing behavior.
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