When it comes to personal interac- tion in the workplace, the lines eparating professionalism, friendship, collegiality, and harassment are often
narrow, difficult to distinguish, and subject to
change. Although handshakes and eye contact
are encouraged, hugging or staring can make
co-workers uncomfortable. Likewise, a comment can be construed as light-hearted banter,
a borderline joke, bullying, or even a threat,
depending on the context and the employees
Many harassment claims grow out of mis-
What is harassment?
understandings or personality conflicts that
are not properly addressed early, and which
grow into much more complicated problems
over time. The issue for employers is how to
keep small disagreements or misunderstand-
ings from growing into significantly bigger
problems. What can employers do to prevent
harassment and promote a collegial, respectful
workplace? First, employers must understand
what constitutes harassment and
what groups are protected under the
law. Second, employers must have
anti-harassment policies, includ-
ing effective reporting protocols in
place to properly receive and inves-
tigate reports of harassment. Finally,
employers should invest in training
to ensure that employees understand
their obligations under both appli-
cable law and company policy. This
is particularly important with respect
to management employees. Allowing
a hostile environment to exist in the
workplace produces significant costs
to employers, some more obvious
than others, and an ounce of preven-
tion is worth a pound of cure.
Unlawful harassment boils down to
unwelcome conduct based on a protected
characteristic. Protected characteristics under
federal laws include race, color, religion, sex
(including pregnancy), national origin, age ( 40
or older), disability, and genetic information.
by Scott M. Gilbert and Michael J. Lorden
Creating and maintaining
a collegial, harassment-free
» Repeated smalls acts can combine to create an unlawful hostile environment.
» Tolerating harassment can produce tangible and intangible costs.
» Clear policies and effective protocols can prevent harassment.
» Addressing seemingly small issues early can prevent bigger issues later.
» Developing proper culture through training is critical to success.
Scott M. Gilbert ( email@example.com) is a Shareholder and Michael J.
Lorden ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Associate in the Chicago law office of