Monday, July 12, 2010

What If A Coworker Is the Problem?

Some workplace harassment is not perpetrated by someone in a position of authority over an employee. Instead, the harassment may be carried out by an employee’s coworker(s) or some other "non-employer." When this type of harassment takes place, it is often common knowledge among staff.

Although we’d like to think that someone with the audacity to harass or bully a coworker would do so out of sight of other employees, often other staff will witness or overhear the harassment. Let’s not forget, one of the best parts of harassment, from the perpetrator’s point of view, is the public humiliation (among staff) that the victim must suffer through. Embarrassing the victim is a huge payoff for people who engage in this behavior. It’s the humiliation that will help to isolate the target of the harassment and that may help persuade the victim to transfer to another department or resign from their job.

Just because an employee is not being harassed by someone in authority doesn’t mean that employers aren’t liable for any damage caused by the mistreatment. So, if you’re being harassed by someone senior to you (with no authority over you), someone who’s the same level as you or even by someone that is junior to you, your employer may still be liable for damage to your career, etc.

In the decision for Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2289 the Supreme Court said, “When harassment is perpetrated by the plaintiff’s coworkers, an employer will be liable if the plaintiff demonstrates that ‘the employer either provided no reasonable avenue for complaint [you didn’t have a way to complain of mistreatment] or knew of the harassment but did nothing about it.’”

On top of that, the EEOC states that an employer is liable for harassment by a co-worker or non-employer if management knew or should have known of the misconduct, unless the employer can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action.

So, if your coworker (or any workplace “non-employer”) is harassing you, your employer may be liable for punitive and/or other damages if they knew or should have known about your mistreatment because it was so prevalent and out-in-open in your workplace, but they did nothing about it!

If your employer did take the right and immediate corrective actions against the person harassing you (e.g., transferring the perpetrator, firing the perpetrator, etc.), you may not be able to convince the court that your employer is liable for any damages.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One girl in my office sent a racist You Tube video to the person the next desk over from me, to be sure I would hear it when played.

The company panicked and made up performance-related infractions when prior to that I had a stellar performance. This was their self-defense mechanism "just in case" I tried to sue.

8:50 AM  

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