Harassment is a word employers never want to hear. A long-standing question for many employers has been the extent of their potential liability for workplace harassment. An employer’s liability for harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may depend on whether the alleged harasser is a supervisor or just another coworker.
Liability for harassment by a coworker is typically limited to situations in which the employer fails to control working conditions. By contrast, an employer may be strictly liable if a supervisor’s harassment involves what courts refer to as a “tangible employment action” against the harassed employee. Tangible employment actions occur when a supervisor uses the official power of the employer against the harassed employee. Such actions would include hiring, firing, demoting, failing to promote, or reassigning the employee.
Originally published in the Utah Employment Law Letter - December 2013.
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