Contrary to popular opinion, these laws and subsequent case law are not intended to make sure that everyone plays nicely. Instead, they prohibit exploitation of individuals, and the creation of a hostile and abusive workplace. Simple joking and offhand remarks are not enough to qualify as harassment. However, targeted and pervasive behavior that makes a reasonable person afraid to go to work is protected against. These laws provide protection for such individuals, helping them avoid being penalized within the business setting whether they choose to remain with the business or not. A common ramification for harassed employees who left a bad work situation used to be that they could not collect unemployment benefits because it was classified as a willful termination. Workplace harassment laws and protections allow employees to leave a hostile work environment, and still claim benefits so long as they can demonstrate that it was, in fact, a hostile work environment.
These laws also provide an added layer of responsibility for employers. Oftentimes, employers are held liable for hostile work environments, even if the employer was not directly involved in the harassment or the conduct that led to it. Workplace harassment laws prevent employers from turning a blind eye on bad situations. It also encourages them to create their own solutions to prevent these situations from developing in the first place. To prevent being found liable once a case for workplace harassment has been proven, the employer must show he either did everything that he or she could do, or it was not reasonable to do anything else. However, this standard is hard to meet in most cases.
For more help understanding how workplace harassment laws affect you, speak to a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.