Posted by Tamara
Idaho employers and workers often assume that the terms “sexual harassment” and “hostile work environment” are interchangeable. This assumption is incorrect. While these two terms indicate negative situations in the workplace, they do not mean the same thing.
Sexual harassment is negative behavior directed to an employee based on his or her gender.
Grace’s is a teenager working at a fast food restaurant. Her boss has been pressuring her to have sex with him. She has refused his overtures, but he continues to pressure her. Her boss’s behavior constitutes sexual harassment. In fact, any unwelcome sexual overtures in the workplace can constitute sexual harassment, whether it comes from a manager, a co-worker, a vendor or a customer.
A hostile work environment is defined as negative behavior directed to an employee due to his or her race, sex, color, religion, pregnancy, age (between 40 and 70), disability or national origin. This behavior can come from supervisors or other management personnel, but most often comes from coworkers.
In a recent EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) case, the Executive Chef of a Hilton hotel in Lisle, Illinois referred to Hispanic workers as “wetback” and “dumb Mexicans”. This constituted a hostile work environment, because these employees were subjected to negative behavior based on their nationality, race or color. It wasn’t sexual harassment, because the behavior did not include unwanted sexual overtures or advances.
Another EEOC case involved about a dozen current and former female sales employees of a chain of new car dealerships. The federal court ruled they were subjected to a hostile work environment when their owner and managers referred to them as “dingbats”, and made derisive comments when they didn’t meet their sales quotas. The male sales employees were not subject to any of this negative behavior. The federal court awarded these women over $12 million.
Federal antidiscrimination laws require employers in Idaho and across the nation to provide a discrimination-free work environment. If anyone creates a hostile work environment in the workplace, the employer is legally liable and must put a stop to it.
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