Protecting Yourself from Workplace Abuse: Understanding Your Rights under the Law

Workplace abuse is an intolerable and unacceptable phenomenon that needs to be addressed in a business or academic setting. It takes on various forms and can include physical or emotional conduct that causes harm to employees. These forms of abuse can include but are not limited to discrimination, bullying, violence, harassment (including sexual harassment), absurd work demands, shouting, intimidation (such as making threats related to promotion opportunities or job security), humiliation, undeserved discipline, damaging or undermining work that has already been completed, etc.

Employers are responsible for creating a safe and supportive work environment where employees are treated with respect and dignity. That involves implementing policies and procedures that prevent and address workplace abuse and supporting employees experiencing such abuse. Failure to address workplace abuse can lead to a toxic work environment, which can have serious negative consequences for employees and the business or academic institution.

It is crucial to take immediate action to recognize and address workplace abuse to ensure a safe, respectful, and healthy work environment.

Identify the Type of Abuse You are Experiencing at Your Workplace

Recognizing and addressing workplace abuse can be difficult, given that some forms are less apparent than others. While physical assault by a colleague is a precise instance of workplace abuse, more subtle forms, such as threats to job security or sabotage by a coworker, can also qualify as abusive behavior. It is essential to be aware of such behavior to address it effectively. By creating a supportive and safe work environment, we can all work together to create a workplace culture that values respect, dignity, and fairness for all employees.

Employees must identify and understand the kind of workplace abuse they may be experiencing to assert their legal rights. It is crucial to recognize that harassment and discrimination are two distinct issues that require different approaches and cannot be tolerated in any form.

Harassment is a broad term that encompasses sexual harassment, bullying, humiliation, and other similar behaviors that are unacceptable in the workplace. Discrimination is a clear violation of an individual’s rights and is an unjust or prejudicial treatment based on gender, race, religion, color, sex, disability, or marital status.

It is essential to note that not all harassment is necessarily discriminatory, but any form of abuse must be confronted and stopped immediately. By recognizing these distinctions, employees can take a firm stance against workplace abuse and ensure their rights are respected and protected.

Suppose an employer demotes an employee due to their decision to start a family and questions their commitment to the company. In that case, it is essential to know that this behavior is considered discriminatory and prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. As for employees whom their bosses are belittling because of their tattoos, they must know their rights and take a stand. Even though tattoos are not a protected ground from discrimination, employees are still protected from harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employees need to know their rights and stand up for themselves.

Differentiating between harassment and discrimination can be a complex matter, as there are instances where harassment falls under the category of discrimination. For example, sexual harassment is considered both discrimination and harassment and is protected by the law on both accounts. If you are uncertain whether you are experiencing abuse in the workplace or wish to learn more about your legal rights and how to assert them, consulting with a lawyer could be beneficial. They can provide you with the necessary guidance and support to help you navigate this challenging situation. Additionally, being aware of tricks lawyers use in depositions can further empower you during legal proceedings.

Harassment Can Be a One-Time Incident

Following the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA),  “workplace harassment” refers to engaging in vexatious commentary or behavior that is known, or should be known, to be unwelcome. This type of behavior can take many forms, including verbal comments, physical gestures, or actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Workplace harassment is a serious issue that can profoundly impact the well-being of employees and the productivity of an organization. Therefore, harassment is recognized as repetitive behavior, and the individual responsible for it is aware (or should be aware) that such conduct is unwanted.

Harassment can be constituted by a single incident as well. The conduct doesn’t need to happen multiple times to be considered harassment. In the case of Murchie v. JB’s Mongolian Grill, the court ruled that sexually touching someone’s body, even if it is a single incident, counts as harassment. The incident in question was the employee’s nipple being flicked.

Bottom Line

If you feel you are a victim of workplace abuse, it is wise to keep a record of every instance. That includes noting the date when the abuse happened, who was involved, what happened, and what actions you may have taken afterward, such as telling your boss and the response you received from them. Keeping a well-documented record of everything that occurred is essential to protect your rights and adequately address the issue. You can use this information to report the abuse incident to handle or provide it to a lawyer to support your case should you seek legal advice.

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