Can I Sue if I'm Harassed?
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Many employees experience harassment in the workplace. Oftentimes, it could be workplace differences over work assignments or performance. Other times, it could be physically and mentally intimidating, including verbal abuse. While at other times, it could be more subtle, such as exclusion from meetings, ostracizing, and being passed over for opportunities. Yet, on other occasions, it could be overt, such as disciplinary actions, suspensions, reprimands, and even removal and termination.
While harassment is never acceptable, and no employee should ever have to endure this, harassment in and of itself is not illegal on a federal level. The courts have held that the laws are not "civility codes." So, what types of harassment are actionable?
For harassment to be actionable, it must be illegally motivated by a protected class, such as sex, race, disability, religion, etc., or a protected status, such having engaged in discrimination complaints, EEO activity, whistleblowing activity, etc.
Motive really matters with harassment complaints. Many times, harassment, although unfortunate, may not be legally actionable unless it is based on an improper motive, or unless you complain about discrimination or other unlawful behavior. Many agencies will also conduct internal investigations into harassment. Unfortunately, workplace harassment in and of itself, is rarely illegal.
Talk to an attorney who is experienced with harassment claims to see if your particular form of harassment may be actionable under the law.