Recognizing Harassment at your Workplace
Clara has been employed for almost a year with a large commercial cleaning company. Since then she has gotten her work routine down: first clean the offices, then the hallways, and lastly taking out the trash. She has already met the occupants of the offices, who greet her and compliment her for a job well done.
Yet, she has an issue with her supervisor. On more than one occasion, he has startled her by observing her work, watching her while she bends forward to put down mats or pick up garbage. He would then tell her to clean one area, then another, to change her routine and adding on more work for no apparent reason to extend her schedule.
When she approached her supervisor’s manager about the situation, they both went to talk with the supervisor. He told him he could not understand why Clara was given a job that was meant for a man.
Perhaps in retaliation for speaking up, the human resources (HR) manager called Clara to the office because of an insubordination complaint from her supervisor. She had to assure HR that she would listen to her supervisor and demonstrate that she was capable to do the kind of job, usually given to a stronger person. The HR manager said he would tell the supervisor to ask him to announce his presence, for Clara’s sake. If any more complaints were received, they would be forced to reassign her to another building. “After the meeting, I left with the feeling of ‘Is this discrimination? Was it me? Was it them?’” said Clara. For her, it felt like discrimination and harassment for being a woman, which the company interpreted as insubordination.
Discrimination in the workplace leads to more than a bad day at work. It takes a toll on the physical, mental and emotional well being of employees.
When Clara came to the Heartland Workers Center (HWC) she was confused about her job situation. What was clear for her was the anxiety and stress she felt every day on the way to her job. She didn’t know what to expect or who to trust.
When an employee has an issue at work, it is important bring this issue to the attention of a supervisor, as Clara did, but also important to make sure Human Resources has a record of this. The HWC helped Clara write a letter to HR, describing the way her supervisor approached her, his inappropriate behavior, comments, and reassigning her work. She didn’t want to lose her job for the wrong reasons, so she made sure her side of the story was also heard.
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Although the law does not prohibit simple teasing, off-handed comments, or non-serious isolated incidents, harassment is illegal when it is frequent or so severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision, such as the victim being fired or demoted.
When someone has been discriminated at work, that person can file a Charge of Discrimination with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, and/or State Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC). Including to the city entity, Omaha Human Rights and Relations Department (OHRRD).
The HWC helped Clara to file a charge of discrimination with the NEOC against her employer for harassment and discrimination. Clara did not feel the company recognized any wrongdoing on their part or that of the supervisor’s for the way they treated her, but instead blamed her for insubordination.
“The manager always said the same, ‘That is his job, supervise your job’, and the HR assistant was with an attitude of disbelief. I knew it was discrimination and even harassment, but harder to prove because it was not obvious, nor did I have witnesses or any other kind,” said Clara.
Clara wasn’t the only employee suffering of discrimination in that company, but most of those employees decided to quit, like her friend, to stop the mistreatment. “Why are they to move me to another building or change my assignment if I am doing it fine and even receiving tips for the job well done? I have the right to work there as anybody else. I went to the HWC asking for help because I was in an unfair situation,” said Clara.
We have the right to do our job without facing discrimination or harassment, but if we do face these, we also have the right to complain. The HWC can help you to take that first important step.