Diversity in the legal definition of equal opportunity programs in the United States includes people of different race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in Title VII. (6.1) Employees and customers of the programs should be provided equal treatment.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides more information about types of discrimination in the workplace and best practices for preventing it grouped into twelve types: Age, Disability, Equal Pay Compensation, Genetic Information, Harassment, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Retaliation, Sex-Based Discrimination, and Sexual Harassment. (6.1) More information and links to each topic are included later in this section. Personal boundaries and what is considered harassment or discrimination in the legal sense will be discussed first.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by Title VII under the category of Sex-Based Discrimination, (6.2), (6.24). This topic will also be discussed in more detail in section 11: What is Gender Discrimination?.
There's a line drawn in the sand of social behavior that isn't supposed to be crossed. But where is that line?
People raised in different cultures or with different types of parents may have very different expectations regarding social interactions. Behavior that is considered normal in one setting might be viewed as very disrespectful in another setting or by a different group of people. Healthy guidelines for behavior help protect what is valued without being overly defensive.
The meaning of words can also vary between individuals and cultures. Dictionary definitions help set boundaries of meaning that can be referred to by any reader familiar with the language.
The U.S, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance regarding legal definitions of harassment, and sexual harassment on their website, (6.1), and suggestions regarding what might it look like in the day to day business world:
Excerpt on Harassment:
“Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.
Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.
Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.” EEOC/Harassment (6.5)
The U.S, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance regarding the legal definition of sexual harassment on their website, (6.1), and suggestions regarding what might it look like in the day to day business world:
Excerpt on Sexual Harassment:
“It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex.
Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.” EEOC/Sexual Harassment (6.6)
See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website for further information regarding the legal protection against Harassment and Sexual Harassment and for the rest of the twelve categories with legal protection against discrimination: Age, Disability, Equal Pay Compensation, Genetic Information, Harassment, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Retaliation, Sex, and Sexual Harassment. (6.1)
An old childhood rhyme suggests that sticks and stones might hurt but that being called names doesn’t hurt. Common sense supports the idea, clearly being hit physically hurts, however research has found that emotional harm can also cause physical long lasting changes in the brain.
Emotional stress has been found to cause changes in the brain similar to changes seen after a history of serious physical or sexual abuse. (6.16) Bullying during childhood has been shown to cause permanent changes in the brain that can affect the child into adulthood. Depression and reduced memory abilities into adulthood may result from the physical changes found in children who grew up with ongoing emotional or verbal abuse. (6.17)
Defining jokes as potentially being physical abuse might help encourage more compassionate workers to tone down their jokes to meet the EEOC definition of “petty slights” or “simple teasing” rather than reach the level of “frequent and severe” harassment “that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.” (6.5, 6.6)
When to report a bully and how to do so safely are important topics to discuss with employees and managers before problems occur. Developing company policies and educating staff regarding the guidance can also help prevent problems or help events go more smoothly and safely if problems do occur.
Click "When to Report? How?" to continue reading.
However before I get back to the topic of spotting bullies, we travel through time and around the world in a discussion about why people individually or in groups have a tendency to harass or discriminate against others, so for the convenience of those in a troubling situation right now, a few links:
"The purpose of fear is to raise your awareness, not to stop your progress." - Steve Maraboli
If you feel afraid in a work or private situation it is likely time to seek advice from human resources
or other experienced individuals.
When is it time to report a bully? Especially if it's your boss? and how?
Document first. Get witnesses if possible.
Our early childhood experiences can affect our later trust in others or even in the products we buy. How secure we felt with early caregivers can leave us more or less trusting as adults.
A friendly work environment can help prevent stress and anger in workers, and anger can be a precursor for violence. A hostile environment can also affect the trust of customers for the business.
Staff or customers who become overly hungry and tired may be more prone to anger or violence, especially if alcohol is available. Water and food protect against dehydration and irritability.
Harassment and discrimination are similar but different. Harassment may involve teasing or bullying while discrimination involves unfair employment practices such as hiring or pay inequality based on gender.
We can't change human nature, however the better we understand ourselves as individuals and groups, the better we can develop policies that enhance our strengths and work around our weaknesses.
Links and Reference footnotes for
Chapter 6: Equal Opportunity Service.