State and Federal laws protect employees from workplace harassment if the harassment is motivated by such things as the employee’s sex, race, national origin, religion, age or status as a disabled person.
In order for an employer to bear legal responsibility for the harassment, however, the employee must generally report the harassment to Human Resources or company management. This reporting requirement derives from the standards set forth by the courts explaining the circumstances under which an employer should bear liability for workplace harassment.
An employer only bears responsibility for harassment suffered by an employee at the hands of a co-employee if management knew or should have known about the harassment. An employee is unlikely to be able to prove that management knew or should have known about the harassment that she suffered unless the employee reports the harassment to management, the key exception being the rare circumstance where the harasser commits the harassment in the physical presence of management.
Even if the harassment suffered by the employee is committed by a supervisor, the employee still must generally report the harassment to management in order to render the employer liable. Most employers have employment policies requiring their employees to report harassment to management. The courts have ruled that an employer can avoid liability for harassment committed by a supervisor if the employee unreasonably fails to meet the obligation imposed by such a policy to report.
Certain employees are understandably reluctant to report harassment to management. They fear retaliation for their reporting (a subject we will discuss more fully in a forthcoming blog). The employee’s obligation to report the harassment, however, is usually not excused by a nebulous fear that adverse consequences may befall the employee.
The employee generally must report the harassment to management, so as to afford management a reasonable opportunity to remediate it, if the employee seeks to hold the employer legally responsible for the harassment.
If you are suffering workplace harassment based on your membership in a protected category (e.g, sex, race, national origin, religion, status as a disabled person, age), you should consult an experienced employment discrimination lawyer such as Benjamin T. King. Attorney King has been ranked in the top 5% of lawyers in New England in the category of representing employees in employment discrimination claims, continuously since 2014. Attorney King can be reached at (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.