How to Recognize and Report Workplace Harassment

Harassment in the workplace takes many forms. Although sexual harassment has stayed in the headlines recently, thanks to the #MeToo movement, bullying and assaults against workers based on their race, religion, age, disability and other characteristics are equally  serious and illegal.

Workplace harassment laws match the federal laws to protect employees’ rights. These laws, under both state and federal,  give harassed and/or bullied workers powerful tools to hold employers accountable for failing to protect them.

The first step toward invoking protection under a law like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans With Disability Act (“ADA”) is to recognize what constitute legally actionable harassment. So, to quote the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Workplace harassment becomes unlawful where:

  • Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

To take this definition apart a little bit and put it into practical terms, an employee cannot claim to be suffering from harassment when they invite or willingly participate in potentially uncomfortable conduct. The actions must be uninvited and unappreciated to provide the basis for a harassment complaint and lawsuit.

It is also important to note that neither a single request for a date nor a playful remark constitute harassment. The problem must come up repeatedly, be serious enough to warrant a call to the police, or cause the victim to quit or seriously consider quitting.

Report Harassment to HR or a Trusted Supervisor First

Under workplace harassment laws, a victim of harassment can consult with an employee rights attorney at any time. Doing this before filing a formal complaint can be helpful for understanding the process for pursuing a complaint and considering the possible results of taking action. A lawyer who has helped other harassment victims will also have advice on how to write a complaint and which types of evidence will support a claim.

Whether a lawyer is consulted or not, the first place to go with a harassment complaint is human resources or a supervisor. Employers are required to have processes for receiving and investigating complaints. Agencies like the EEOC and courts that handle workplace handle workplace harassment cases want to see that those processes were followed.

When a complaint filed with the employer fails to resolve the problem, a workplace harassment victim can then file a complaint with the agency that administers the applicable employee rights law. This is usually the EEOC, but a lawyer who represents harassment victims will know which agency to contact.

The agency will investigate the complaint and take one of three actions:

  • Ask the employer to find a solution that protects the harassment victim,
  • Issue a letter authorizing the victim to file a lawsuit against the employer, or
  • File a lawsuit against the employer on behalf of the victim.

An Employer Cannot Retaliate Against an Employee Who Reports Harassment

No matter what else happens, an employee who files a complaint about workplace harassment cannot legally be fired, demoted or harassed for doing so. To quote the EEOC one more time: “Antidiscrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.”

Contact our Workplace Harassment Attorney

Still, too many employers retaliate against workers despite knowing they can face legal consequences. It is not uncommon for a harassment victim to file a lawsuit that lists separate claims for harassment and retaliation. An employee rights attorney with Barkan Meizlish, LLP, can provide advice on all types of potential workplace harassment and retaliation cases. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call us at (614) 221-4221 or complete this contact form.

Can You Sue For Emotional Distress Lawsuit Against Employer in Ohio?

Can an Employer Be Sued for Emotional Distress in Ohio?

You can file an emotional distress lawsuit against your employer if you have proof that some action by the company’s managers triggered serious shame, fear, embarrassment, depression or post-traumatic stress. You will encounter high barriers to succeeding with such a lawsuit, however.

Grounds for Bringing an Emotional Distress Lawsuit Against an Employer

First, state laws in Ohio make it nearly impossible for employees to sue their employers after work-related accidents induce emotional distress. That is to say, personal injury lawsuits, which often include emotional distress claims, almost never move forward against employers when the plaintiff is an employee.

Pretty much every claim related to an on-the-job injury or illness must be handled through the workers’ compensation program. A workers’ comp claim can include requests for the coverage of treatment for mental and emotional problems that develop as a result of the injury or illness, but the program will not approve a claim for just emotional distress.

The types of lawsuits against employers that can include claims for emotional distress usually relate to violations of employment laws that prohibit discrimination, harassment and illegal forms of retaliation. For instance, a worker who brings a wrongful termination lawsuit can include a claim for the emotional distress they suffered while unemployed and struggling financially.

Importantly, stress itself cannot support either a workers’ comp claim or a lawsuit against an employer. Lawmakers and courts expect all jobs to be stressful. An employer can only be sued when its managers deliberately make a position more stressful than it needs to be in order to harm an employee or to compel the employee to quit.

Standards of Proof in an Ohio Emotional Distress Lawsuit

To succeed in convincing a judge and jury that you suffered emotional distress because of something you employer did, you must present convincing evidence of all the following facts:

  • Your employer acted recklessly or with intent,
  • The action was illegal or extreme and outrageous,
  • The action directly caused your emotional distress, and
  • Your emotional distress was severe.

You can prove intent by documenting complaints about distressing treatment such as harassment or discrimination. Partnering with an experienced and understanding employee rights attorney will help you cite which laws were violated and to make a case for actions being beyond ordinary teasing or everyday stressors.

You can use medical records, insurance claims, pharmacy bills, and therapists’ notes to demonstrate the connection between the action and your emotional distress. That health information can also establish the severity of the distress.

Finally, to secure a jury award, you must be able to show that your employer knew about the issue that was causing emotional distress and either caused the issue or did nothing to resolve it. Internal records of meetings and emails can be important forms of proof in this regard. At Barkan Meizlish, LLP, our attorneys only advise and represent employees. If you think you have grounds for filing an emotional distress lawsuit against your current or former employer, give us a call at (614) 221-4221 to let us know how we may be of assistance, You can also schedule a consultation online. The initial discussion will cost you nothing.

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