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Beware! Harassment comes in many forms

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers

stop harassmentWe’ve heard it so many times that it’s begun to sound like one word: “sexualarassment.” But not all on-the-job harassment is sexual, and there’s plenty of trouble waiting for managers and organizations that tolerate harassment of any kind.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Who’s protected? Anyone. Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, which deals most closely with workplace issues, does not offer protection only to minorities or to any selected group of people. Rather, it prohibits discrimination, including harassment, “on the basis of” race, color, religion, sex or national origin. This could include harassment of native-born white Protestant men. (Such cases have been waged and won in the courts.) Additional federal laws extend this list to include disability and age, and many states’ laws add further grounds for protection.
  • What’s harassment? The “hostile environment” standard also applies to nonsexual harassment. Any persistent pattern of behavior, by one individual or throughout the enterprise, that leads other employees to feel targeted because of their race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or age can lead to a harassment claim.
  • Who decides? Legally, harassment is in the eye of the beholder—that is, the victim. Even if the “jokes, teasing and horseplay” in your workplace seem harmless to you, if employees object and can plausibly claim that these acts are related to, for example, their race, they have the beginnings of a case. And if those employees ask for the jokes, teasing and horseplay to stop, and that doesn’t happen, the claim will be hard to counter.
  • What’s a manager to do? Remember, a handbook statement won’t save the company when it comes to harassment. You must also police the workforce. That means your radar should be up when it comes to the banter you hear and any complaints—no matter how seemingly trivial—that are brought to your attention. Very often, an immediate supervisor is the first to learn that harassment has occurred at work. Never brush off any complaint. Report such behavior immediately to HR.

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