Often, workplace harassment takes place in a top-down scenario, where a supervisor has abused their role and authority in the workplace. The U.S. Supreme Court is now investigating this issue in more depth by seeking to define who qualifies as a supervisor.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines a supervisor as “an individual who has authority to direct daily work activities or recommend employment actions.” This authority puts this employee in a position of authority, which can make workplace harassment possible while making it more challenging to report and correct. When a supervisor harasses an employee, in most cases, the employer is responsible for the damages. However, if a harasser is a peer of the harassed, the victim would have to show negligence on the part of the employer in the handling of the situation in order for the employer to be liable.
Proving harassment in the workplace can be a challenge without worrying about whether or not the employer is liable. In many cases, the emotional or physical damage can be serious, and coming forward about the incidents is difficult. This is especially the case when the harasser is a supervisor due to the fear of retaliation for coming forward, which can lead to more harassment and threats.
Employees who are concerned about their treatment or the treatment of co-workers in their workplace can seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney. Whether by a superior or peer, harassment at work is never acceptable, and there are legal options to pursue for compensation and to protect the victim from additional harassment.
Source: NPR, “Supreme Court To Look At Who Is A ‘Supervisor’ In Harassment Cases,” Nina Totenberg, Nov. 26, 2012.