According to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), almost 27,000 people filed harassment allegations in the most recent year data is available, including more than 12,000 sex-based harassment charges for that same time period. These figures do not include charges filed with state or local Fair Employment Practice agencies. And, they most certainly don’t include the tens of thousands of charges that aren’t reported each year.
What is Workplace Harassment?
Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates federal and/or state laws that protect workers from unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. New Jersey employers and employees must abide the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) that protects against discrimination based on ancestry, sexual orientation, services in the armed forces, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, marital status, domestic partnership status and civil union status.
Common Reasons Why Employees Don’t Report Harassment
Employees have the right to a safe workplace, free from harassment. Employers should seek to promote a healthy workplace culture that provides multiple outlets to report any issues and a process to address problems. The following are top reasons why workplace harassment goes unreported:
Unclear Escalation Paths
There may be several scenarios in which an employee may be unsure to whom they should report harassment. If the harasser is the person’s boss, the person may not be sure who to go to instead. If multiple people are harassing an individual and creating a hostile work environment, that person may be unsure who to report. Or, in smaller companies without an HR department, an employee may not be clear to whom they should report harassment.
Employers should provide multiple outlets for an employee to report harassment, Further, the employer should inform the employee of what those outlets are. If your employer’s culture creates an environment that discourages employees from reporting harassment or other problems, you may have a case for filing a lawsuit or complaint.
Fear of Retaliation
Someone being harassed may feel that their livelihood is in jeopardy if they were to lose their jobs or good shifts as a result of reporting. In other cases, a person may fear intimidation or suffer threats of harm for reporting harassing behavior.
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against a person who alleges discrimination or harassment in the workplace. An employee who believes they have been retaliated against for filing a charge or complaint may be able to file a lawsuit or complaint with the EEOC.
A person being harassed may believe there is something he or she could do or should have done to stop the behavior. Because of this feeling of self blame or guilt, the person may not report the behavior. It’s always best to report harassment to your employer as soon as possible. It is the employer’s duty to create a worplace free from discrimination and harassment.
Not Knowing Your Rights
Workplace harassment comes in a variety of forms and may be more subtle than you think. Examples of workplace harassment include:
Verbal harassment such as offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.
Cyberbullying could include these same types of insults but they are done online whether publicly or through an employer’s internal networks.
Sexual harassment such as inappropriate touching, sexual jokes, sharing pornography, sending sexual messages, or requiring sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or job security.
The harasser can be the person's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The person reporting harassment does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
Get Help for Workplace Harassment
We should all be able to go to work without facing harassment of any kind. If harassment does not stop or if you are suffering retaliation from reporting workplace harassment, an employment attorney may be able to help. Employment attorneys focus on protecting you from discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environments, and more.
The employment attorneys at Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, bring together our knowledge and insight to construct a strong case for our clients and maximize any future settlements. Thanks to our teamwork and extensive familiarity with both state and federal employment laws, we can take on essentially any employment law case for you. Contact us today for a free consultation.