What is Employment or Workplace Harassment?
Wisconsin employees are protected from harassment in the workplace by both Wisconsin state law, Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA), and federal laws, such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Generally, harassment is comments or conduct in the workplace that is directly or indirectly about an individual based on a protected category, such as the individual’s race, sex, or disability. The comments or conduct must be offensive to the individual and must be unwelcome, meaning that the comments or conduct were not invited or also engaged in by the individual. It is generally also required that the comments or conduct happen repeatedly.
Who Can Be A Harasser?
Under both Wisconsin state and federal laws, an employer can be liable for harassment for the actions of the following:
- A supervisor or any individual that is higher up in the chain of command over an individual, as that person’s purpose is to represent the employer and the employer’s interests in the workplace
- A coworker, if a supervisor, a Human Resources representative, or any other individual higher up in the chain of command is aware of the harassment and fails to take steps to stop the harassment
- A client, customer, or vendor, who spends time at the workplace
Employer responses to harassment allegations can be critical and should be addressed right away.
Employment or Workplace Harassment Claims
Harassment under the law covers comments and conduct that are far more severe and significant than simple teasing, off-hand comments, or isolated incidents that are not in and of themselves severe enough to pass muster.
To prove an employer is liable for employment or workplace harassment, an individual must generally establish a “hostile work environment” exists in the workplace. To do so, the individual must establish each of the following:
- He or she is a member of a protected class (such as race, gender, religion, etc.)
- Harassing comments or conduct were unwelcome
- Harassing comments or conduct were “severe or pervasive” enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment
- There is a basis for employer liability
If a harassed employee cannot satisfy all of these prongs, then they cannot establish harassment. For this reason, employment or workplace harassment cases can be complex.
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