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You are Here: Home > Discrimination > Harassment at Work - 2

Harassment

Harassment Laws

As indicated on the previous page, there are no Federal "workplace harassment laws" per se. Rather, harassment at work is prohibited under the following Federal employment discrimination laws or related regulations.

The remainder of this article collectively refers to all of the laws above as harassment laws just to suit its purpose.

A harassing work bully can be anybody under the so-called harassment laws, including a boss, coworker, and even a non-employee (e.g., independent contractor or client). No one is immune from violating the laws.

Additionally, harassment laws allow anyone adversely affected by unwelcome, discriminatory conduct to file a discrimination charge against a harasser directly with the EEOC (or state equivalent) or through an attorney, even if he or she was not the intended victim.

However, before filing an EEOC charge against your employer under a harassment law, it's a good idea to try to stop the unwelcome conduct by following your employer's anti-harassment policies to the letter; otherwise, your employer might be able to use the so-called Faragher-Ellerth defense against you.

To file a charge directly with the EEOC (or state equivalent), you do not need to know for sure that the harasser violated a harassment law. (But, it's not a good idea to file false or frivolous charges, as you might be liable for doing so.) The victim does not have to suffer economic injury or employment discharge, for either the victim or a witness to file a charge.

As with discrimination charges of any type, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report harassment directly to the EEOC (or state equivalent) or through their attorneys, or who participate in related proceedings in any way.

Because the EEOC is swamped with discrimination charges annually (21,088 harassment charges alone in FY 2012), it typically takes on only the most legally-compelling cases.

Subsequently, filing a charge through an attorney verses directly with the EEOC might be a good idea. An attorney will likely write it in legalese that might be more compelling to the EEOC's legal staff than a layperson's allegations.

You must first file a discrimination charge with the EEOC (or state equivalent), to preserve your right to later file a private harassment lawsuit.

If the EEOC (or state equivalent) does not act on a charge, then filing a private harassment lawsuit is likely to be the only avenue for seeking legal relief. Attorneys often take serious, winnable discrimination cases on a contingency basis, and also often win better awards than does the EEOC.

For more information, including liability limits and prevention measures for employers, see Harassment by the EEOC.

If your harasser has threatened to harm you, or if you reasonably believe that his or her behavior has significantly jeopardized your safety, security or privacy, then a state harassment law or equivalent likely entitles you to file a restraining order against him or her. However, be aware that doing so could aggravate a deranged harasser into worsening your situation. Consult an attorney in your state for legal advice.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) specifically protects veterans and reservists from discrimination on the basis of their military service, including harassment. It is enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), not the EEOC. For more information, see Employment Discrimination for Military Service.

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