Stopping Workplace Harassment
(This article first appeared in the January-February 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
By Research & Education Director Joyce Robinson
Employees have the right to work in an environment free of harassment or intimidation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as “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.”
What Kind of Behavior Constitutes Harassment?
According to the EEOC, annoying comments and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) are not the kind of harassment that is actionable in court unless the conduct creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to:
- Making offensive or derogatory comments, nicknames, or racial slurs.
- Engaging in physically threatening, intimidating, or humiliating actions.
- Circulating or showing written or graphic material that belittles or shows hostility towards an individual or group.
- Using racially derogatory words, phrases, or nicknames.
- Expressing derogatory comments relating to and arising out of a person’s military service.
- Displaying posters or symbols offensive to individuals of a certain race, sex, national origin, religion, etc.
- Making derogatory references to an employee's physical or mental impairment.
What to Do if You Are Harassed?
Any level of serious harassment has no place at work. If you are offended by someone’s conduct:
- Try to tell the harasser that his/her behavior is unwelcome.
- Talk to your shop steward or a local union officer.
- Report the incident to a supervisor, manager, or postmaster.
- Keep a diary at home of incidents, dates, times, places, behavior, what was said, and of all witnesses.
- File a grievance and an EEO Complaint. If a supervisor, manager or postmaster is doing the harassing, insist that the “proposed solution” does not adversely affect you. Insist the harasser be the one who is inconvenienced or moved.
How Can Co-Workers Help?
Co-workers can help stop harassment in the workplace by taking it seriously. Do not laugh or condone teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions that may be hurtful or inappropriate. Ask the harasser to stop, even if the behavior is not directed at you. Report the harassment to the union steward, a supervisor, manager, and/or a postmaster.
If you don’t feel like you can speak up for yourself or others, tell a union steward or officer who will speak up for you. And if you feel that you are retaliated against for speaking up or making a report, that is a form of harassment and should be reported, too.
What Kind of Legal Action Can I Take?
If harassment and/or retaliation is happening in your workplace and you’ve raised it to management but it doesn’t stop, you can file a grievance against management to document that the Postal Service knew about the harassment and was given an opportunity to stop it. In addition, file an EEO complaint within 45 days of the incident by calling 1-888-336-8777. You must file a timely EEO complaint to bring a lawsuit over harassment.
If the alleged harasser’s behavior included assault and battery or rape, file criminal charges with the police and consult an attorney. Also, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to give employees emotional support for problems that may result from being harassed. Contact the EAP at 1-800-327-4968.
References: EEOC (Harassment) and USPS Policy on Workplace Harassment