As employment law attorneys, we at Barrett & Farahany have witnessed firsthand the impact that workplace harassment and workplace discrimination can have on employees. These two terms can often be used interchangeably, but in actuality, they are very different concepts with varying legal implications.
Our employment law attorneys will break down the key differences between workplace harassment and workplace discrimination, as well as the similarities that may add to the common confusion surrounding them.
Workplace Harassment: Unwelcome Conduct
Workplace harassment refers to any unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic including but not limited to race, sex, age, or disability that creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment action. This can include physical, verbal, or visual conduct that is offensive, intimidating, or hostile. Whether it was intended to be offensive or intimidating is not typically a significant factor.
Examples of workplace harassment may include:
- Inappropriate jokes or comments
- Unwanted physical contact
- Displays of discriminatory images or symbols
Victims of harassment may experience anxiety, depression, a lack of safety, and a decline in work performance as a result.
Workplace Discrimination: Unfair Treatment
Workplace discrimination, on the other hand, involves treating an employee unfavorably in their position because of their protected characteristic. This occurs in:
Workplace harassment is a form of workplace discrimination, but it is not the only way someone can discriminate against another in the workplace.
Discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination is when a person is treated differently because of a protected characteristic. Indirect discrimination occurs when an employer has a policy or practice that applies to everyone but inadvertently places employees with protected characteristics at a disadvantage.
For example, if an employer only hires male employees for physically demanding jobs because they assume women are not as physically capable, this would be considered direct discrimination based on gender. On the other hand, if an employer requires all employees to work on Saturdays, which disproportionately affects employees of a certain religion who observe the Sabbath on that day, this would be considered indirect discrimination based on religion.
Key Distinctions Between the Two
While both workplace harassment and workplace discrimination involve mistreatment in the workplace, there are important distinctions between them.
One key difference is that workplace harassment must be based on a protected characteristic to be legally actionable. Discrimination can also involve a protected characteristic, but it can also occur for other reasons, such as political beliefs or marital status.
Additionally, workplace harassment typically involves unwelcome conduct that creates a hostile work environment, while discrimination can result in adverse employment actions such as being denied a promotion or fired based on someone’s protected characteristics.
However, there are times when the two concepts may overlap. For example, if a female employee is repeatedly passed over for promotions despite being more qualified than her male counterparts, this could be considered both workplace harassment (due to the hostile work environment created by gender-based discrimination) and workplace discrimination.
Tips on How to Handle Each Situation
If you are experiencing or witnessing workplace harassment or discrimination, it’s important to take action and protect your rights. Here are some tips on how to handle each situation:
- Workplace harassment: Document the incidents of harassment and report them to your employer. If this behavior continues, consult with an employment law attorney for guidance on filing a complaint.
- Workplace discrimination: Gather evidence that supports your claim of unfair treatment based on a protected characteristic. File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state agency and seek legal counsel for representation.
In both cases, it’s crucial to know your rights and understand the legal protections in place to prevent workplace harassment and discrimination. As employment law attorneys, we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of employees and holding employers accountable for their actions.
Contact the Employment Law Attorneys at Barrett & Farahany
No one should have to endure mistreatment in the workplace, and there are legal remedies available to protect you and get compensation for the mistreatment you endure. So, if you believe you have been a victim of workplace harassment or discrimination, don’t hesitate to seek the help of experienced employment law attorneys at Barrett & Farahany. Contact us today.