The Misunderstood Term of “Harassment” at Workplace

I almost feel like the word “harassment” is the wrong term of the legal claim entitled “harassment at workplace” in the legal world because its legal meaning is so different from the meaning of the word in the ordinary, day-to-day life. Under the law, an actionable claim for harassment / hostile work environment requires showing that you are treated differently because you are a member of protected class. The courts have repeatedly held that simple being mean and rude or unfair without a discriminatory animus is not harassment and that they are not in the business of enforcing the rules of civility and proper manners at workplace; they are in the business of enforcing civil rights. As an illustration of this critical difference, consider that if your employer uses foul language or screams at you is generally not against the law and doesn’t give a rise to any claim without more. However, the same cussing and yelling accompanied by a racial slur or statement that suggest age/disability/religious/gender/sex discrimination are likely to make a claim, especially if repeated. Plainly, “you are no good junk” is not illegal, while “you are no good peace of old junk and it’s time to retire and bring some fresh blood to the company” is a strong evidence of age discrimination, or if the manager says: “you are no good cripple, and we need strong/healthy people in here” this would be a strong evidence of disability discrimination.

Even such harsh words as a “bitch” do not give rise to a legal claim. On the other hand, statements such as “you are a bitch, and I never hire another woman” or “you are a bitch and I want to have sex with you before I promote you” is likely to be evidence gender discrimination and sexual harassment respectively.