Legal protections for Indianans against workplace harassment

Workplace harassment based on protected characteristics like gender, age, disability, race and more is illegal.

Going to work in and of itself can be challenging. Hours can be long and responsibilities all consuming. Workers in Indiana have the legal right to be protected from harassment that can make going to work frightening, anxiety provoking and stressful. Having to be productive under such circumstances brings the challenge of work to a higher level.

Thankfully, workplace harassment based on a personal characteristic that is legally protected is a form of unlawful discrimination. The Indiana Civil Rights Commission, the state agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, defines workplace harassment as "any unwelcome verbal, written or physical conduct that shows hostility or aversion towards a person on the basis of their protected characteristics."

Federal civil rights law further defines illegal harassment as either that which is expected to be tolerated as a condition of employment or that is "severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive."

Generally, one-time incidents are not enough to become illegal, unless they are of an extreme nature.

Workplace harassment is illegal whether the perpetrator is in management, a colleague or a nonemployee. Not only is it illegal to be harassed directly, but also other employees in the environment can experience feelings of harassment even if not directed at them.

Common examples of harassment include:

  • Verbal taunts, criticism, mocking, stories, slurs, name calling, epitaphs, comments, jokes, ridicule, threats or innuendo that are offensive or degrading
  • Offensive pictures in print or on computer screens
  • Offensive objects
  • Unwanted touch
  • Physical assault
  • Physical or mental intimidation
  • And more

Most people have heard of illegal harassment based on sex, but under Indiana and federal civil rights law, these additional characteristics are protected:

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy (as part of sex or gender)
  • Disability
  • Age

Some local governments in Indiana have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. For example, the city of Indianapolis protects workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against a worker who has complained about harassment.

A covered employer who receives an internal complaint of workplace harassment must immediately take steps to stop the illegal behavior.

Employment law in this area is extremely complex and an experienced employment attorney should be consulted to understand legal rights and steps to take to enforce them. In particular, employment law is a complex interplay between federal, state and local laws; federal and state agencies; and federal and state courts. A victim of workplace harassment or discrimination may have more than one option for enforcing legal rights and a knowledgeable attorney can assist with making choices of law and procedure, and seeing that deadlines are not missed.

Successful complaints may result in legal damage awards or orders to employers to change workplace environments or take other appropriate action such as rehiring an employee who quit because of ongoing harassment or was wrongly fired for complaining.

From their office in Indianapolis, the Employment Law Office of John H. Haskin & Associates, LLC, represents victims of workplace harassment and discrimination across the state of Indiana.

Keywords: workplace harassment, protected characteristic, gender, age, disability, race, illegal, Indiana, discrimination, Indiana Civil Rights Commission, agency, unwelcome, conduct, environment, abusive, sexual orientation, retaliate