Workplace harassment in 2016
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- the federal agency tasked with enforcement of discrimination laws -- recently released a report on workplace harassment. There are a several striking conclusions. First, almost one third of the complaints received by the EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment. Second, the least common response to harassment is to make a complaint. Thus, one broad, and sad, takeaway from this report is that workplace harassment is not uncommon in American workplaces. As an employment lawyer, this unfortunately rings true.
For privacy reasons, I cannot report on the cases I've handled, but the report provides some examples of workplace harassment cases it processed recently:
Laudente Montoya worked as a mechanic at J&R Well Services and Dart Energy. From his first days on the job, Mr. Montoya's supervisor called Mr. Montoya and a co-worker "stupid Mexicans," "dumb Mexicans," and "worthless Mexicans." The supervisor told Mr. Montoya that he didn't like "sp*cs" and that Mexicans were the reason Americans have swine flu.
Mr. Montoya fought back. He told his supervisor that "a person in a management position in a large corporation should not talk to their employees like that." In response, the supervisor said something like "welcome to the oil fields. That's how they talk here." According to Mr. Montoya, the supervisor did not limit his offensive comments to Hispanic employees. Mr. Montoya observed the supervisor calling other co-workers names like "n*gger," "lazy Indian," and "wagon burner." When Mr. Montoya and his co-workers complained to the area manager, a friend of the supervisor, the manager did nothing.
As Mr. Montoya explained, "Working that job was one of the worst times in my life. It became so that I could hardly bring myself to go to work in the morning because I hated working with him so much. People were calling me moody. I even saw my doctor about it."
Jacquelyn Hines ... work[ed] for New Breed Logistics, a supply-chain logistics company with a warehouse in Memphis. Her supervisor made a habit of directing sexually-explicit comments to Jacquelyn and her female coworkers. Indeed, it wasn't only sexually-explicit comments - there were lewd and vulgar gestures, and some days physical harassment as well, like the day he pressed his stomach and private parts into one woman's back. When these women asked him to "stop talking dirty to me" or "leave me alone," his response was that he "wasn't going to get into trouble, he ran the place" ....
Workplace harassment -- racial, sexual, or any other form -- takes its toll psychologically and physically on workers, and according to the report, can lead to disengagement from work among other sometimes very serious consequences. Harassment also can infect a workplace and lead to disengagement and lack of productivity amongst a broader set of workers. It is serious from a human perspective, a legal perspective, as well as a business perspective.
If you are an employee and believe you are being harassed at work, contact me. We can discuss your situation, and I can provide you with a broader explanation as to the paths available particular to your circumstances.
If you are an employer and believe there is harassment at play in your workforce, contact me to discuss how to get a handle on it immediately. As the report concludes, the best response of employers is to implement strategies of leadership and accountability up and down the line.