Despite the annual workplace harassment trainings most offices require for their employees, harassment still occurs. In most cases, a report to HR will rectify the situation. But when the harassment continues, or when the issue is much larger than a single individual, you might decide to take the issue to a higher court—a literal one. Where’s the line between an HR complaint and a harassment case? And how good are your odds of actually winning such a case? While there’s no clean-cut answer to these questions, we’ll review some important information regarding workplace harassment cases below.
When Is HR Not Enough?
If you’re experiencing any form of harassment at the hands of an individual or a small group, HR is usually your first step. But if the issue is larger than that, or if your report does not lead to consequences for the individual(s) in question, a harassment lawsuit may be your next course of action.
Typically, a workplace harassment case has a higher chance of succeeding if the case is based either on sexual harassment, discrimination, or an overall hostile work environment. You could have the option to sue both the individual(s) who harassed you directly and your employer, if you reported the issue and they failed to take action to protect your rights.
What Qualifies as Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is probably one of the most well-known types of workplace harassment, and it was probably the primary focus of those annual trainings you had to sit through. Hopefully, that training made it clear that sexual harassment is not limited to physical harassment. Any kind of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other behaviors that are sexual in nature, can constitute sexual harassment. It can even include offensive or discriminatory language about your sex or gender.
Typically, if you hope to have a successful harassment lawsuit, the harassment must be so consistent or severe enough that any reasonable individual would consider it intentionally hostile or abusive in nature.
What Is Workplace Discrimination?
Workplace discrimination constitutes any kind of harassment related to your race, color, religion, pregnancy, national origin, age, disabilities, gender, or sex. Unfortunately, teasing or petty annoyances aren’t typically enough to merit a lawsuit—though you certainly should still keep record of it and report it to HR. As with sexual harassment, the discriminatory behavior must be constant or severe enough to be clearly abusive in nature.
What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
In cases where the problem extends beyond a single individual or group, you could file a lawsuit against your employer for enabling (or directly causing) a hostile work environment. Essentially, these kinds of lawsuits require your employer to somehow be complicit in the abusive behavior. Perhaps you’ve filed several reports, and those employees were never disciplined for their actions. Or perhaps your employer regularly passes you over for promotions while lower-performing employees are promoted instead, and you have reason to believe it is due to one of the protected categories mentioned above.
For this kind of case to succeed, you should be able to demonstrate how the work environment is hostile and how your employer’s behavior has contributed to that environment.
What Are Your Odds of Winning?
While we can’t give a direct answer to this question without first reviewing your case, we can tell you the key factors that will impact the outcome of your case. The court will look at four key things:
Each of these factors play a role in the outcome of your case. If a fellow employee said something offensive to you a couple of years ago, you probably don’t have much of a case. But if your supervisor is regularly passing you over for employment and failing to take action against the daily discrimination you face from your coworkers, you have a strong case against them.
If you’ve experienced harassment at work, reach out to us. We’ll review your case with you and give you a better idea of just how strong your case is.