EEO 101: Harassment — Part II

Hopefully, you have never been harassed at work and never will be. But what would you do if such a situation occurred? Would you know where to turn and what steps to take? Do you know your employment rights and the laws protecting you?

What constitutes harassment?

You probably have a good general idea of what harassment is, but would you know it if you saw it, that is, in the legal sense? You may likewise be wondering what the term “hostile work environment” really means? Moreover, what specific Federal laws protect Feds against discrimination on the job? According to the EEOC:

“Harassment is 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.”

Does one nasty comment or abusive gesture create a hostile workplace?

Can unlawful harassment occur via just one incident? Yes, but the action must be so egregious and damaging that it meets the legal threshold of a hostile work environment. This does happen, but rarely. Bloomberg BNA cites recent court cases about the “one incident” scenerio (What did he just say? The effect of a single comment):

Know the excuses harassers use to justify their illegal conduct

As the saying goes, there are at least three sides to every story. Thus, if you are brave enough to speak out, file a complaint, and/or confront a harasser, you should also be prepared to respond to the common excuses harassers will use to obscure the truth. Business Management Daily has a good article on this, which applies to the public and private sectors:

Understanding harassment “legalese”

In addition to the web link posted above on EEOC guidance related to the Supreme Court ruling on harassment, further information about the issue, your legal protections, and the process for lodging an EEO complaint is available on EEOC’s web site at:

Know your EEO rights and follow complaint procedures

You may have so-called “smoking gun” evidence to prove a harassment case, such as first-hand confirmation of witnesses, video or audio tape, etc. However, not following specific EEO complaint procedures can jeopardize your case. The following web links explain what to do and when…

Don’t suffer in silence

Remember, no Fed needs to suffer in silence and no harasser is above the law. Harassment is like a cancer that will only get worse and spread within your office or agency if not properly and promptly addressed. Harassers must be held accountable for their unlawful behavior, regardless of their position within any agency hierarchy. Maintaining a harassment-free environment at work is one important step toward creating a model Federal workplace for everyone.


*** Note: All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.

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