Harassment FAQs

What is the difference between harassment and discrimination?

The biggest difference between harassment and discrimination is the presence of adverse employment action. An adverse employment action is something that affects your employment status such as being fired, having hours reduced, or not receiving a promotion, among many others.  Harassment, on the other hand, relates to conduct that is offensive. Offensive conduct can take the form of jokes, cartoons, written or verbal comments, and unwelcome touching, among other things.

What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment can be:

  • unwelcome sexual advances
  • requests for sexual favors
  • verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
  • deliberate, repeated, unsolicited gestures or comments of a sexual nature
  • deliberate, repeated display of offensive, sexually graphic materials unnecessary for business purposes

What is a hostile work environment?

Hostile work environment is often used by individuals to describe a workplace that it is uncomfortable, gossipy, or otherwise not pleasant and hostile.

In the legal context, a hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences harassment in the workplace that substantially interferes with their work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Hostile work environment claims are often seen along with sexual harassment claims. However, they can be created by other forms of harassment, such as racial harassment.

I recently filed a complaint with the EEOC against my supervisor. I have 2 disabilities and she denied my request for accommodations until I called the Job Accommodation Network.

Her constant bullying and harassment has caused me severe emotional distress and caused 5 other people to quit. It was so bad my physician put me on a leave of absence for 3 months. Do you think the EEOC will side with me?

In order to be actionable, and for the EEOC to potentially side with you, the “bullying and harassment” has to be based on a protected characteristic. As you specifically mentioned that you have two disabilities, if you were claiming that the bullying and harassment is due to your disability, you have to prove that the supervisor is bullying you and harassing you because of your disabilities and not just for the sake of bullying you or giving you a hard time.

To do so, often you have to look at the surrounding circumstances. You mentioned that 5 of your coworkers quit. Did those coworkers quit because of your supervisor’s conduct? Did you supervisor bully and harass them, too? If so, did they share any protected characteristic with you? For instance, did they also have disabilities?

The question is why the supervisor is bullying and harassing you. If the supervisor simply does not like you, is generally not a good person, or generally mistreats those s/he supervises, then there likely is not enough there to support a cause of action and the EEOC may not side with you.  If the supervisor specifically references your disabilities, criticizes you for the effects of your disabilities (such as missed work time, the need for accommodation, etc.), or is shown to treat individuals with disabilities differently than those who do, there may be enough there to support a cause of action and the EEOC may side with you.