Thursday, March 22, 2018

Harassment in the Workplace: Through the Eyes of a Hofstra Career Center Resource

Harassment in the workplace.  If we all had a dollar for every time we have heard that phrase over the past few months… But what exactly IS harassment and what do you need to know as an intern or full-time employee?

You should know that it’s not just full-time employees or paid interns that are protected under the law. The New York State Human Rights Protections for Unpaid Interns in the Workplace Law protects unpaid interns from harassment and other forms of unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Interns are now protected against discrimination based upon age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, genetic predisposition or carrier status, marital status, or domestic violence victim status. The Law applies to all employers with four or more employees.
So, now you know that you are all protected. Next, you should know what you are protected FROM.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals.
That’s a lot of words.  Here are some examples:
  • My co-workers make negative comments about my personal religious beliefs, including how I dress.  They are always trying to convert me to their religious ideology.
  • My supervisor keeps pressuring me for a date and lately has been hinting at a promotion if I accept.
  • A supervisor recently asked me about my love life. The questions are detailed and extremely offensive, but I’m afraid to express how I really feel.
  • My co-workers tease me about being the only female scientist in our unit. They are constantly making comments that I am not as smart as they are and that I must have dated the boss to get this job.
  • My co-workers tell racist jokes and it makes me feel very uncomfortable.  I have asked them to stop but then they just make fun of me for being too sensitive.
Harassment can be physical or emotional. This is a very important point.  Just because someone does not actual touch you in an aggressive or sexual way, does not mean that they have not committed harassment. Offensive jokes, slurs, or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, are all examples of harassment. Also, the harasser may not necessary be a supervisor, it can be anyone in or associated with the workplace.  Further, the victim does not have to be actual person who is being harassed, but someone who is being negatively affected by the harassment.
So what can you do? What are your resources?
If someone is harassing you, the first course of action can be telling them to stop.  If you do not feel comfortable doing that, or if doing so has not changed the behavior, report the situation to a supervisor.  Keep detailed notes of incidences, including emails or written documentation. Be prepared to file a written complaint. Know that under the law, you cannot be fired, demoted or punished for filing a complaint.
As for prevention, I suggest researching companies of interest to see if they have shared any of their harassment policies online.  While not having a visible one may not mean that the company is soft on harassment, you may be able to find some valuable information.  A simple Google search will tell you if the company has been cited for harassment in the past.

You can also ask about these policies at the end of your interview.  Maybe something like “Harassment in the workplace has been in the news a great deal lately. What policies do you have in place here to prevent incidences of harassment?”  Hopefully the answer is that they train their employees properly and have punitive measures in place for offenders.
For a further discussion about this topic, The Career Center is proud to present Harassment in the Workplace, a discussion about the various forms of harassment, on April 18th from 3:30-5:00 in HofUSA.  We hope to see you there!

Darlene Johnson
Director of External Relations, Hofstra Career Center

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