Everyone wants to feel comfortable when they are at work. They want to be treated fairly and equitably. For most people, and at most places of work, this isn’t a problem. The people are pleasant to work with, the work is rewarding, and everyone goes happily about their day. Every work place should be like this. In an effort to make that a reality, we have work place harassment laws.

What Is Harassment?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as, “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” If this seems like a rather ambiguous definition, that is because it is. There are terms like “unwelcome,” that can be tough to pin down.

Exactly how unwelcome does “unwelcome,” have to be? Well, the commission goes on to clarify, “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.”

Harassment is a tricky thing. Just because a coworker has been offended by something does not mean they have been harassed – until it goes too far. So whose job is it to prevent harassment from happening? Legally, employers are automatically liable for work place harassment. This is the reason for the existence of things like HR departments and harassment seminars. Employers have a lot of responsibility. They want to do everything they can to protect both themselves and their employees.

When it really comes down to it, the best way to avoid harassment is to treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. Kindness has a way of spreading. In a work place, it can be absolutely invaluable.