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What is harassment?
  • Employers are responsible for acts of harassment, even if they come from outside of the company.

Harassment based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, or disability is a discriminatory practice. Although sexual harassment has received the most attention, many of the same principles apply to other types of harassment, and employers should be equally vigilant in preventing it.

Hostile work environment

Behaviors that create a hostile environment generally involve acts directed at people because of their race, color, national origin, religion, age, or disability. While sexual harassment involves sexual conduct, gender harassment can occur where no sexual conduct is involved.

Hostile environment harassment includes:

  • Unwelcome comments or conduct unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance; or
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

The harasser can be a supervisor, coworker, or non-employee. It is important to note that employers may not only be responsible for acts of harassment by employees and supervisors, but also for acts of non-employees, such as vendors and customers, where they knew about or should have known about the conduct being challenged.

Anti-harassment training for employees and supervisors

A good training program can go a long way in proving that your company took adequate measures to prevent sexual harassment.

To learn more about anti-harassment training for employees and supervisors, click here.

Disparate treatment/disparate impact

There are two broad types of discrimination:

  • Disparate treatment: An intentional practice where members of a protected class are treated differently than other employees.
  • Disparate (or adverse) impact: A (usually) unintentional business practice that has the effect of discrimination on members of a protected class.

For example, more men than women are selected as firefighters because the physical requirements tend to screen out a higher percentage of women. This has an adverse impact on women as a group, although this is allowable due to business necessity. However, a hiring practice may be discriminatory if it tends to screen out a particular group and is unrelated to:

  • The requirements of the position, or
  • Business necessity.