With Rise of Hate Groups, Laws Prohibiting Harassment at Work are Important Tools

With the apparent increase of hate speech and hate groups on the rise in the United States, it is important for employees to keep in mind their rights to be free from hostility and harassment at work under federal and state law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees based on disability, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people based on age. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) provides similar protections for employees in Minnesota, and generally applies to any employer, regardless of size.

These laws also prohibit harassment, or a “hostile work environment,” for these same protected classes. For example, both Title VII and the MHRA prohibit an employer from maintaining a hostile work environment on the basis of race or religion. Put another way, the law protects employees from being harassed because of their race or religion (or any other protected status).

In order to qualify as a “hostile work environment” under the law, an employee must experience conduct, including acts or words, that are either severe or pervasive, and based on a protected class (such as race or religion). The harassment must be unwanted, and it must be objectively offensive to a reasonable person. Examples of racial harassment (also called hostile work environment) include hanging a noose in a workspace, using racial slurs or epithets, or repeatedly using racial or similar stereotypes about coworkers.

According to a recent study, many employees find their workplace hostile—as many as one in five employees believes they have experienced hostility at work. At the same time, racial and religious hate groups still continue to exist throughout the United States, including in Minnesota. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate groups are on the rise.

One way to combat hateful speech and conduct is to know and enforce your rights under federal and state employment laws. If you believe that you have been targeted because of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age or disability, or experience harassment or hostility at work, contact Teske Micko today.