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#Not-Here: Preventing Harassment and Discrimination in Your Workplace

Does discrimination or harassment occur at your company? No one comes to work expecting to be a target of discrimination or harassment. But far too many employees experience this reality at some point in their working lives. Some startling statistics:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) research indicates that one in four workers are affected by workplace sexual harassment.
  • The EEOC also estimates that 75% of workplace harassment incidents go unreported.
  • Pew Research findings show that four in ten working women experienced gender discrimination.
  • Perhaps worst of all, nearly half of those experiencing discrimination reported that it happens regularly, and three quarters of harassment victims experienced retaliation when they spoke up.

While no company wants discrimination or harassment to occur, many seem to tolerate it rather than prevent or deal with it appropriately. However, the #MeToo movement has served as a dramatic wake-up call that such behavior is unacceptable and will no longer be ignored. Turning a blind eye to discrimination and harassment is an invitation to disaster.


Discrimination is, of course, illegal. It is defined as adverse, unjust, or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people. Federal and state legislation prohibits discrimination based on a number of protected categories, including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, citizenship, disability, family status, gender identity, and genetic information. A virtual alphabet soup of acronyms, such as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), and GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) identify laws spelling out protections afforded to employees in the workplace.

It is unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices, such as recruiting, hiring, training, job assignments, promotions, pay and benefits, layoffs and firing, and granting leave. Simply put, all employees must be treated fairly and equitably.

Not only must employers prevent and avoid discrimination, but they are also required to make reasonable accommodations if needed for employees with disabilities to perform “essential functions” of jobs. This allows employees to contribute at their maximum potential. Companies that eliminate discrimination in the workplace create a healthy culture of inclusion and get the most out of their employees.


Workplace harassment is also illegal. It is defined as unwanted and unwelcome behavior, and becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct is a condition of continued employment or when it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating or abusive.

Sexual harassment has been much in the news lately. There are two primary forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The first, quid pro quo, occurs when employment decisions or expectations are based on an employee’s willingness to grant or deny sexual favors. Hostile work environment harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the effect of interfering with an employee’s work performance or creating a hostile or offensive work environment.

A Word to the Wise

Data on discrimination and harassment charges filed with the EEOC for the last ten years show an annual average of more than 93,000 complaints, or greater than 250 charges each day. The economic cost to businesses is staggering, in the billions of dollars annually. Further, individual managers can be found personally liable for acts of discrimination and harassment.

While legislation regarding discrimination and harassment spell out requirements for companies and managers, these laws need not be seen as burdensome. Rather, they aid companies in creating environments and cultures that attract and retain talented employees. The adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the best strategy for companies to follow.

Dee Oviatt, GPHR is a Senior Training Consultant at ATW Training Solutions.  Contact ATW for a free trial of its eLearning program, Preventing Harassment and Discrimination.

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