Workplace harassment and discrimination are, unfortunately, not a relic of the past in Chicago.
In fact, it was reported in 2016 that between 25 and 80 percent of women will experience sexual harassment at some point in their working lives (Feldblum and Lipnic).
However, harassment is not just of a sexual nature.
It comes in many forms and putting a stop to it is rarely a simple matter.
Taking measures into your own hands may not be effective. You might need to explore legal avenues.
The laws are very clear in protecting employees from harassment in the workplace.
They cover a number of protected categories, which we explore below in the process of helping you answer the question of how to deal with workplace harassment in Chicago legally.
What is workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is when an employer or group of employees is either belittled or threatened by their employer, co-workers, or even by people not employed in the same company (contractors, suppliers, etc.)
It can be anything from derogatory remarks or slurs to physical assaults, bullying, and physical intimidation.
Harassment can sometimes be confused with discrimination.
However, workplace discrimination is different. It occurs when an employee is treated unfairly at work based on how they look, where they come from, what their religion is, etc. It can sometimes lead to harassment.
The law is very clear on protecting employees from workplace harassment, as stated by the Employment lawyers at Werman Salas P.C.
A number of federal laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 as well as Illinois state laws (the Illinois Human Rights Act) protect workers’ rights in Chicago.
What are the protected categories?
Both employees and prospective employees are protected from being discriminated or harassed in the workplace based upon the following protected categories:
- Sexual orientation
- National origin
- Military service
There are other categories but these are the main ones. Sexual harassment cases are by far the most common.
These generally fall into two categories:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment
- Hostile environment sexual harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when an employer or supervisor demands sexual favors or makes unwanted sexual advances in return for a raise or promotion or even as a condition of employment.
Hostile environment sexual harassment is when the work environment is made intolerable by offensive photos, comments, jokes or other acts of a sexual nature, including physical touching and rape.
First steps to stopping the harassment
Whatever the reason for the harassment, it’s illegal. You don’t need to tolerate it. The behavior should be called out for what it is.
Start by telling the person who is harassing you to stop.
You may also want to make a supervisor or someone in the HR department aware of it. They can advise you on company policy, at least.
It’s also a good idea to keep a journal of any instances of harassment or discrimination that you’ve experienced, as well as details of any witnesses in the workplace to these instances.
If the harassment doesn’t stop, you may need to make a complaint or file a lawsuit against the employer or coworker.
This can be an ordeal but you don’t have to go it alone.
You may have had to resign from your job because of the harassment and there is nearly always a strong emotional toll with a harassment case. Your career prospects may even suffer in the short term because of it.
That’s why it’s important to get in touch with a seasoned employment lawyer as soon as possible after experiencing suspected harassment.
What legal steps are available to you?
Your attorney can first understand the circumstances of your case and help you assess it from a legal standpoint.
The burden of proof in harassment cases lies with the employee rather than the employer. They can also be very sensitive in nature.
So, it’s imperative to hire an experienced lawyer who can help you build a strong case.
Any complaint will need to be filed either with:
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the federal administrative agency; or
- The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR)
These two agencies have a work-sharing agreement and co-operate with each other to process claims. It’s not necessary to file a complaint with both agencies.
For the IDHR to investigate a claim against sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation, physical or mental disability discrimination, only one employee is required in the company.
The federal laws generally apply to companies with 15 employees or more and also apply to employment agencies, labor organizations, and the federal government.
How quickly should you address harassment?
In Chicago and the state of Illinois, any complaint should be made within 300 days of the date the last incident occurred. Otherwise, you may lose your ability to seek compensation in court.
You can discuss the legal steps to take with your attorney – whether you want to pursue a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission or a lawsuit.
There is nearly always some urgency to finding a resolution to harassment because of the financial and emotional toll it places on individuals.
Your attorney will help you file the complaint and prepare your case.
In the ideal outcome, you will be able to:
- Put a stop to the harassment you’re experiencing
- Receive damages to compensate you for any loss of earnings and also the emotional distress and suffering that the harassment has caused you
- Prevent future acts of discrimination
Note that you’re not only entitled to make a complaint against the harassment. The law also protects you from retaliation for participating in any harassment investigation or lawsuit by any governmental agency or in a court proceeding (whether instigated by yourself or by others).
It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for opposing such practices or consulting an attorney, the EEOC or IDHR.
So, while taking legal action can be an emotional and mental drain, the law falls on your side when it comes to protecting your rights.