Often, when employers and employees hear the terms “harassment” or “discrimination” in the workplace they aren’t sure what those words mean in a legal setting.
However, the law specifically and narrowly defines illegal harassment and discrimination in the work place. These laws include the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”).
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of a disability. Qualified employers must make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of disabled employees. Title VII protects against employer discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. An employer cannot treat an individually adversely or differently because of these protected characteristics. The ADEA prohibits discriminatory treatment of individuals over the age of 40.
Unfortunately, the law does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace. There is no cause of action against bosses that are generally disagreeable or disrespectful. If you think you are being discriminated against or harassed, ask yourself if you are being treated differently than other workers based on your age, disability, race, color, religion, sex or national origin. If the answer is yes, the first step is to make your employer aware of the behavior. Follow your employee handbook in making a complaint. The ADA, Title VII and ADEA all prohibit retaliation against an employee filing a complaint. Once you have filed the complaint, if the wrongful treatment does not stop or if you are retaliated against, then seek the advice of an attorney.