Workplace harassment has gained more notoriety in the news and media the past few years due to the Me Too movement and social media. Although in some ways, workplace harassment has become easier to open up about and discuss, there is still some confusion and stigma surrounding it. What, exactly, constitutes harassment? Who is in charge of reporting harassment and what is a company's responsibility when dealing with complaints from their employees? Who has the burden of proof in harassment cases and how does someone go about gathering evidence? These are among some of the most common questions people ask when it comes to workplace harassment and the answers are sometimes simple, but other-times, not so much.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines Harassment as "unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive."
This is important to note because what an individual believes is harassment versus what constitutes illegal harassment under federal, state and local law can be different. While we believe it's not a rule set in stone, isolated incidents of unwanted acts won’t be enough to constitute harassment under anti-discrimination laws. However, sometimes the conduct is so severe, there is a basis for legal action against the perpetrator.
Some of the most common types of harassment include verbal (in the form of slurs, off color jokes, insults and innuendos to name a few), physical and sexual. Typically, supervisor harassment is quicker to lead to attention by the federal courts, but good evidence is still necessary. For someone being harassed at work, the first step is to document everything. Every instance should be dated and timed and if possible, list the people in the general vicinity who might be able to make statements to corroborate what transpired. While this is an important step in fighting harassment, solid evidence of the claim must be gained before most legal action can be taken.
The easiest way to do this is to hire a private investigator. Private investigators can conduct surveillance in public areas, take witness testimonies and do background research on the offending co-worker/manager. This is the quickest way to gather legally binding evidence that can be brought before HR or even the court of law.