Difference between a rude co-worker and a legal claim

Dealing with a rude co-worker or supervisor can be highly annoying and may interfere with your ability to do your job. While the behavior of a bad boss or co-worker may be offensive, it is frequently not illegal and is, instead, an indicator of a poor management style or workplace culture. However, depending on the reasons for the person’s conduct, it can cross the line into illegal behavior when it targets the victim’s protected characteristics.

When rude behavior constitutes illegal harassment

A supervisor who shouts at employees or belittles them may not be acting illegally but may prompt people to want to quit and find new jobs. However, when a supervisor or co-worker’s conduct is directed at specific people in the workplace based on their protected characteristics, it may be illegal harassment. Under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, employers are forbidden from engaging in discrimination and harassment based on an individual’s:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Military status
  • Gender identity
  • Age
  • Genetic information
  • National origin

When a person is targeted for harassment based on one or more of these protected characteristics, the conduct may be illegal. However, it must be pervasive or severe enough to create a hostile work environment in which a reasonable person would find that the actions interfere with his or her ability to perform his or her job. This means that a single incident will generally not be enough to constitute illegal harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment

A second type of harassment that can occur is quid pro quo harassment. This involves a person in a position of authority offering benefits or threatening adverse actions unless the employee agrees to perform sexual favors. Quid pro quo harassment is also illegal.

People who believe that they are being harassed at work because of their protected characteristics should start by filing internal complaints within their companies. If their employers fail to investigate or take corrective action, they may then file discrimination and harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. An attorney with extensive knowledge of employment law may help throughout the entire process, up to and including filing a formal civil complaint in the appropriate court.

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