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What is the Difference Between Workplace Discrimination and Harassment?

Published on Oct 3, 2018 at 12:36 pm in Employment Law.

West Virginia employees are protected from mistreatment under state and federal employment laws. If you feel as though your employer has violated these laws, contact our West Virginia employment lawyer to find out about holding your employer accountable for their actions.

You may hear discrimination and harassment used interchangeably; however, legally they have their own significant meanings. If you feel as though you’ve been mistreated in the workplace, you’ll need to understand how you’ve been mistreated. We’ll go over the distinctions between discrimination and harassment so that when you’re ready to contact us and file your claim, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Understanding Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination relates directly to an employer’s decisions to treat certain employees different because of the groups or characteristics they’re associated with. A single instance of an employer denying an individual a job or promotion, or terminating an employee, based on defined criteria is considered discrimination. The criteria are established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Let’s take a look at the criteria in more detail.

Age. When an employee or possible employee is treated differently than others because of their age, this may be considered age discrimination. Age discrimination only applies if the individuals are over the age of 40.

Disability. Employers are not allowed to treat an employee or applicant different because of pre-existing conditions – physical or mental. Employers are also supposed to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

Equal Pay. Men and women who are working in the same place of employment should be provided with identical compensation when identical work is completed. What is considered equal is based upon position, not title.

Genetic Information. Employers cannot obtain genetic information on their employees or applicants, as it should not be considered relevant for any position.

Harassment. While we’ll discuss harassment in more detail below, it’s important to understand that harassment is considered a form of discrimination.

National Origin. Employees have the right to be treated fairly, regardless of their background.

Pregnancy. Women are allowed the same rights as all other employees when they are pregnant. They cannot be treated unfavorably because of their pregnancy status. This includes during childbirth and any medical conditions related to pregnancy or birth.

Race/Color. Employees and applicants, regardless of race or color, should be allotted the same treatment as all other employees and applicants.

Religion. Employees have the right to practice whatever religious beliefs they so choose. Also, employees cannot be treated differently because of the religion their spouse follows.

Retaliation. Employees and applicants are not allowed to be punished for filing claims regarding discrimination and harassment.

Gender/Sex. Employees and applicants have the right to be treated fairly, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sexual Harassment. Employers have a responsibility to prevent and correct any behavior related to sexual harassment. Included behaviors can be physical or verbal.

Defining Workplace Harassment

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination. It generally refers to a pattern of behavior that causes an employee to feel uncomfortable in their workplace. Anyone who chooses to harass an employee or co-worker may be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

According to the EEOC, harassment is any unwelcome behavior that is based on the discrimination categories listed above. The conduct is illegal when it becomes a regular occurrence in the workplace or it creates an environment that any reasonable person would find abusive, hostile, or intimidating. Isolated incidents or annoyances, however, are typically considered within the legal realm of treatment.

Harassment can occur in various circumstances. The harasser may be the victim’s supervisor, co-worker, adjacent supervisor, employer’s agent, or non-employee. The victim does not necessarily have to be the person who was directly harassed. The victim can also be anyone was affected by the offensive conduct. Unlawful harassment can occur even when the victim has not been fired or experienced any sort of economic loss.

Preventing Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace

Employers are encouraged to take the appropriate steps necessary to prevent or correct instances of illegal discrimination. Communication is an incredibly important tool to ensure employees understand discriminatory statements or actions will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Potential victims should also understand their options in the event they find themselves experiencing unlawful activity. It’s crucial for employers to create an environment that encourages positive attitudes and the ability to raise concerns when necessary.

If you believe you’ve experienced discrimination of any kind at your workplace, your employer can automatically be held liable for the incidents if you can prove no steps were taken to prevent or correct the unlawful behavior. An experienced legal team can help you find the evidence you need to prove your claim and hold the negligent parties accountable for their actions.

At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, our employment lawyers in West Virginia have a long history of representing employees from a variety of fields who have been harassed or discriminated against. If you’ve experienced illegal treatment in your workplace, you have the right to seek justice to regain your peace of mind. Contact us today for more information.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice. Viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Prior case results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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