work harassment legal

Before a new employee begins work, they normally go through an on-boarding process with the intent to cover general laws and provide guidance for unusual work circumstances. Sometimes this consists of sitting through a day or two of briefings or the new employee is provided multiple policies to read and review. As employees interact on a daily basis, issues are sure to pop up, however, it is unlawful when people are discriminated against or sexually harassed. With so much in the news lately it is good to be reminded of your rights.

When an employee experiences discrimination or sexual harassment there is a time limit of 180 days (from the act or the last known act) to file a complaint. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”

Addressing concerns of discrimination or sexual harassment at the lowest level possible is always encouraged first. Utilizing your company’s internal process to address allegations of discrimination or sexual harassment is the most expedient option. Go to the company’s website and search for the process and contact the Equal Employment Opportunity EEO Specialist/Officer for guidance and to make your issue(s) known. If this first choice is not available or productive on Maui we also have, both state and federal agencies, that are charged with oversight of issues involving discrimination or sexual harassment at work. The state agency with oversight is the Hawaii Civil Right Commission (HCRC) Website: Phone: Maui – 808-984-2400, ext. 6-8636#. Office Hours: Monday-Friday from 7:45 am – 4:30 pm.

HCRC Article I, Section 5 of the Hawai’i Constitution provides that, “no person shall be denied the enjoyment of civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion, sex or ancestry,” and therefore HCRC has enforced state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment.

The federal agency is the EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Website: (then select, “I want to file a complaint,” read the information and select the start button.) Phone: 1-800-541-4000. Office Hours: Monday-Friday from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.

The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. When the same issue is presented to both agencies, the general rule is that whoever receives the issue first becomes the agency to take on the investigation.

Everyone is entitled to an environment that is free from discrimination or sexual harassment. Know the process, know your rights and don’t be afraid to reach out.

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Ralph Thomas is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant. Currently he is the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Specialist for the County of Maui. In his current position he enjoys focusing on areas within his scope of responsibility that can have the greatest positive impact on the community as a whole, because a healthy community lays the foundation for healthy and productive employees. Ralph lives in Kihei with his fiancée Jackie Shepherd and they have two sons that live in Sacramento, California, ages 28 and 20 from Ralph’s previous marriage.


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