In the wake of several years of changes in both the law and the workplace, the federal agency that enforces harassment claims recently announced proposed updated guidelines.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the proposed guidelines at the end of September, and they are up for public comment until the beginning of November. The new guidelines are intended to help both employers and employees understand the laws and enforcement practices associated with workplace harassment.
What the new harassment guidelines don’t change
The new guidelines are not changes to the law; rather, they are clarifications of existing law based on developments in the workplace and in the courts. The basic definition of unlawful harassment remains the same:
- Unwelcome conduct in the workplace becomes severe and pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider it hostile or abusive, and
- The unwelcome conduct is based on a protected characteristic, such as sex, race, religion, age (over 40), sexual orientation, or pregnancy.
Workplace harassment can be committed by anyone in the workplace: a boss, a peer, a contractor, or a non-employee such as a vendor or customer. You don’t have to be the direct victim of harassment to file a claim; anyone who is affected by the offensive conduct has legal recourse.
What the new guidelines would mean for workers
Again, while the new guidelines are not themselves new law, they would serve to provide updated guidance for employees to understand how the law applies to the workplace in 2023. Key provisions of the new guidelines include:
- Explaining notable changes in law since the last update to guidelines; in particular, the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which extended sex discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Updating examples and illustrations to reflect the realities of the contemporary workplace.
- Providing guidance on emerging issues such as hybrid and remote workplaces and the role of social media in illegal workplace harassment.
The EEOC has issued these proposed changes in response to a substantial, pervasive problem in American workplaces. Over the last seven years, more than one-third of EEOC claims have involved an allegation of harassment.
What to do if you are a victim of illegal harassment at work
If you are a victim of workplace harassment, you have legal recourse under both federal and West Virginia law. You may be able to sue for compensation related to job loss, as well as compensatory damages for losses such as emotional distress. Moreover, you are protected from retaliation for filing a harassment complaint in good faith; that is, a complaint you believed was true, even if it turned out to be a misunderstanding.
However, actually filing and winning harassment cases is not easy. That’s why you need to take two immediate steps to protect your rights. First, document the harassment thoroughly. Keep in mind that harassment cases usually require a pattern of behavior, and documentation is critical to establish that pattern. Second, get legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can explain your rights and guide you through the process.
If you believe you have been illegally harassed at work, contact Klie Law Offices for a free case evaluation. Our conversation is fully confidential, and there is no obligation to hire us, just answers about your rights. Give us a call or contact us online today.