Is your organization concerned about cases of workplace harassment? You should be. According to most recent statistics, one in three women will experience sexual harassment in her career, and the EEOC reports that there were some 88,778 charges of workplace discrimination filed just in 2014 alone. The number of retaliations in cases of harassment are growing too, by as much as 45 percent. Each year, billions of dollars are lost in legal fees and potential productivity as a result of cases of harassment occurring in American workplaces.

Defining Workplace Harassment

Specific types of harassment are illegal within the workplace. This includes age harassment, excluding an employee from activities or not hiring due to age. Sexual harassment includes any offensive action, joke, slur, comment or gestures, as well as sexually explicit words, advances or other actions, that are unwelcome. This can be same sex as well as opposite sex harassment.

Then there are other more insidious forms of harassment and discrimination that occur. Religious, race, color, and national origin harassment include any type of epithets, offensive comments, actions, jokes, slurs demeaning conduct, coercing or derogatory actions against another person. Disability harassment occurs when an individual is subjected to comments, ridicule, or other demeaning circumstances due to a perceived or actual disability. These are considered illegal actions especially in instances of refusal to hire based on a protected class.

When Harassment Occurs at Work

Individuals have the legal right to report situations of harassment and, depending on the type; the employer has the legal obligation to take action to stop it from occurring.The EEOC is responsible for hearing claims of harassment. Cases must be reported promptly (within 180 days of the incident) so that it can be successfully investigated, for a covered employer of 15 or more employees under Title VII and the ADA, 20 or more employees under the ADEA. Federal workers have 45 days from the incident to obtain EEOC counseling.

It is critical that employers do not take any steps to retaliate or react negatively towards an employee or group of employees who have filed a harassment claim. This is also true when dealing with the alleged offender. Employers can take action to reduce contact between the parties, however, by reassigning the offender to another area and discouraging any further contact.

Remember, harassment can take any form, including visual, verbal, or physical. Creating a harassment-free workplace is a legal requirement as governed under the laws of the federal government. It is in your best business interest to reduce and eliminate harassment in the workplace, for the safety and well-being of your staff. It is also critical to conduct training and education to advise employees of certain behaviors and actions that can put them at risk.