Harassment is Against the Law

Joyce B. Robinson

September 16, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as “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.”

Offensive Conduct

To be unlawful, the conduct must “create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.” The EEOC’s examples of offensive conduct include “offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or putdowns, offensive objects or pictures and interference with work performance.”

Employer Liability for Harassment

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a postal customer. The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. The Postal Service is liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, loss of wages and/or when the supervisor’s harassment results in a hostile work environment and the Postal Service did nothing to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior.

The Postal Service will also be liable for harassment by employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

What to Do If You Are Harassed?

  • If you are offended by the conduct of a manager or another employee:
  • Tell the harasser that their behavior is unwelcome and object verbally.
  • If the harassment does not stop, talk to your shop steward or contact another local union officer.
  • Report the incident(s) to a supervisor, manager, or postmaster.
  • Keep a diary at home of incidents, dates, times, places, behavior, what was said and of all witnesses.
  • Tell friends, family and co-workers about the harassment.
  • If the supervisor, manager or postmaster is doing the harassing, file a grievance and an EEO Complaint.
  • Insist that the “proposed solution” does not adversely affect you. Insist that the harasser be the one who is inconvenienced or moved.

What If It Does Not Stop?

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Article 2. Section 1, of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the USPS and APWU. The EEOC’s anti-discrimination laws prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals.

If the problem cannot be resolved, file a grievance against management to document that the Postal Service knew about the harassment and was given an opportunity to stop it. In addition, file an EEOC complaint within 45 days of the incident by calling 1-888-336-8777. If the alleged harasser’s behavior included assault and battery or rape, file criminal charges with the police and consult an attorney. Also, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to give employees emotional support for problems that may result from being harassed. Contact the EAP at 1-800-327-4968.

References: EEOC’s Harassment webpage (eeoc.gov/harassment) and the USPS Policy on Workplace Harassment.

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