Posted by Tamara
A recent EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) case settled a hostile work environment complaint with the Hilton Hotel in Lisle, Illinois. In this case, the Executive Chef continually referred to the Hispanic employees as “dumb Mexicans” and “wetbacks”. The court ruled that this created a hostile work environment for these employees, because they were subjected to negative behavior due to their race, color or nationality.
Some Florida employees and workers were confused, because they assume a hostile work environment is the same as sexual harassment. This assumption is incorrect.
Sexual harassment occurs when a Florida employee is the target of negative behavior due to his or her gender. A hostile work environment is created when a worker receives negative behavior based on his or her race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age (between 40 and 70) or disability.
The example above with the Executive Chef at the Hilton did not include any sexual advances or overtures, so wasn’t sexual harassment. It was definitely a hostile work environment for the Hispanic employees, though, and illegal discrimination.
According to federal antidiscrimination laws, employers are responsible for providing a discrimination-free workplace. If, as in the case of the Executive Chef and the Hispanic employees, any person creates a hostile work environment for an employee, the employer must put a stop to it. So, in the above example, it was the Hilton Hotel’s responsibility to stop the chef’s behavior.
Let’s look at another example: this time involving sexual harassment. Mark works for an investment firm. His co-worker, Susan asks him out on a date. He turns her down and makes it clear he’s not interested. Susan continues to ask him out, despite his refusals. Susan is guilty of sexual harassment.
Though this isn’t the “classic” example of sexual harassment where a supervisor promises a reward or threatens a punishment if the employee refuses the sexual advances, Susan is guilty of sexually harassing Mark. The legal definition states that any repeated unwelcome sexual advances or overtures in the workplace from anyone– male or female, manager or colleague–constitutes sexual harassment.
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