VanAntwerp Attorneys, LLP
Phone: 606-618-0698

The fine line between disrespect and harassment in the workplace

Harassment is about "what," not necessarily "who." It encompasses unlawful acts by an employer because of certain factors spelled out in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those include race, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, military status and sexual orientation, in some states and federal circuits.

This unwelcome and pervasive conduct can be verbal, nonverbal, physical or written. The most common form involves quid pro quo, specifically a manager equating an employee's job security with sexual activity. Once overlooked as "boys will be boys," the consequences today are severe, resulting in a supervisor's termination, not to mention a lawsuit against a company.

Over time, what seemed to be overtly black and white behavior has now taken on shades of gray.

Perhaps sensing the changing tide, some in positions of power use more subtle forms of harassment. The direct approach has been replaced by a more passive-aggressive strategy. Employees may feel uncomfortable as they sense a growingly hostile work environment that is difficult to distinguish from what seems to be disrespect.

Disrespect involves a manager (male or female) or any level of employee not having any consideration for co-workers when it comes to their privacy, physical space, belongings, and beliefs. Lacking any regard for staff or outright bullying employees can take the form of gossip, threats, intimidation, profanity, and even the classic "silent treatment."

While no "anti-disrespect" laws are currently on the books and behavior is hard to pinpoint, this negative and nefarious behavior can negatively impact employee morale that can spread to the company. It can also plant the seeds of harassment, if not retaliatory workplace violence that threatens everyone's safety.

Employers should protect themselves by creating consequences to change the behavior. Spelling out clear policies and procedures is a vital step. Disciplinary action in response to bad behavior is paramount as is taking the direct approach with disrespectful employees regardless of pay grade.

Proactive steps can not only stave off legal headaches that drain the bottom line and damage a business' reputation, but also promote a positive, respectful and more productive work environment. For more information on this sensitive, yet highly important issue, call VanAntwerp Attorneys, LLP, at 606-618-0698.

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