Is Teasing Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that can make a work environment unproductive, unsafe or hostile. Sexual harassment can range from inappropriate jokes to physical assault. Knowing what does and does not constitute sexual harassment is important if you are considering coming forward with a related complaint or lawsuit with the help of a Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer. For instance, under federal law, simple teasing does not meet the definition of sexual harassment. This does not, however, mean you are out of options if someone is teasing you at work.

The Legality of Simple Teasing and Offhand Comments

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal entity in charge of enforcing antidiscrimination and harassment laws in the U.S. The EEOC enforces laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects employees from adverse employment actions based on protected classes such as sex, gender, age, race and color. The EEOC is an authority on what does and does not constitute sexual harassment in the workplace.

The EEOC makes it clear that teasing, offhand comments and nonserious isolated incidents are not against the law. These types of actions are generally not detrimental enough to constitute a breach of Title VII or one of California’s antiharassment laws. Simple teasing could include occasional or isolated comments or jokes based on your sex, gender, race, appearance or another protected class. If simple teasing escalates, however, it could eventually fulfill the definition of sexual harassment – thus giving you the opportunity to take legal action.

When Is Teasing Considered Harassment?

According to the EEOC, simple teasing or offhand comments could constitute sexual harassment if they become so common or severe that they create a hostile workplace. If you feel unsafe or unwelcome in your workplace because of the teasing or jokes based on your sex, you could have a case of sexual harassment. The same is true if the teasing becomes enough to create an offensive work environment or if it affects your ability to work. If the teasing is so distracting or disconcerting that you cannot focus on work, for example, it could be harassment.

Teasing may also constitute harassment if it leads to an adverse employment action against you. If your boss teases you about your sex and then assigns a less qualified coworker of the opposite sex to a new client, for example, this could be sexual harassment. Teasing or an isolated incident that leads to your demotion, isolation from work meetings, job termination, a pay cut or another adverse employment decision could give you grounds for a harassment claim in California.

What to Do About Teasing at Work

If someone at work is teasing you because of your sex, go to Human Resources (HR) to try to resolve the issue internally. It does not matter whether the person teasing you is of the same or opposite sex, or what position he or she holds within the company. Your employer’s HR department should have a protocol for handling these situations, such as reprimanding the person doing the teasing or issuing a companywide announcement reminding everyone about the business’s antiharassment policies. Going to HR could solve the problem before it escalates into sexual harassment and interferes with your employment.

If your employer does nothing to stop the teasing and it escalates to the point of creating an offensive or hostile work environment, take your claim to the next level: the EEOC. Describe the sexual harassment issue during a formal complaint against your employer. The EEOC will review your complaint and investigate your workplace for signs of harassment. It may arrange a meeting between you, your employer and a member of the agency to resolve the problem. You may be able to settle your case at this stage. Otherwise, you can take your employer to court in a sexual harassment, wrongful termination and/or retaliation lawsuit in pursuit of compensation and a fair resolution. Work with a Los Angeles employment attorney for assistance if you wish to file a civil claim for teasing.