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What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment can jeopardize a worker's well-being and career. Sexual and non-sexual harassment also violates federal and Illinois employment law and can lead to legal action.

Workplace sexual harassment is the most reported type of harassment. It is a type of discrimination involving uninvited comments, conduct or behavior concerning sex, gender or sexual orientation that creates a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment may be caused by a manager, co-worker or a non-employee such as client, contractor or vendor. Victims are not just the intended target of the offense but anyone who is affected by the behavior such as a bystander who hears an inappropriate comment.

However, there are other types of workplace harassment. These include actions involving race, age, gender or skin color, especially if they interfere with an employee's performance or create a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment involves many types of conduct. Examples include sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos such as pornography with co-workers, sending suggestive letters or e-mails, telling lewd jokes or anecdotes, making inappropriate sexual comments and gestures, asking questions about a person's sexual history or orientation, staring in a sexually-suggestive manner or whistling, displaying inappropriate images at work and inappropriate touching, patting, rubbing or intentionally brushing up against another person.

Non-sexual workplace harassment includes any comment that is threatening, insulting, intimidating or discriminatory. These include making negative remarks about a co-worker's religious beliefs or trying to convert them to a religious ideology, using racist phrases or nicknames, making remarks about a person's ethic traits, making offensive gestures, displaying racist drawings or posters, making offensive comments about a person's disability or age.

Harassment may occur during interviews. It is illegal for employers to ask questions in interviews about an applicant's race, gender, religion, marital status, country of origin or age.

Incidents should be reported to an employer's human resources department and, if nothing satisfactory is done, to the EEOC within 180 days. An attorney can help prepare the evidence needed to pursue these claims.

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