Homeadults with learning disabilitiesHow to Handle a Hostile Work Environment

Once we reach adulthood, the drama of school should be left behind. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Workplace harassment can make modern
jobs feel much like the workhouses
of old.
By n/a (The Graphic, 21 December 1907)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Work environments can be unpleasant for a number of reasons, whether it’s the building itself, the job or company policies, but when harassment is involved, distinct steps need to be taken. Looking back on some past jobs, I recognize some illegal goings on in regards to my dyslexia that I didn’t realize were legally wrong at the time.

Although the term “hostile work environment” seems self explanatory, when it comes to the law, there are certain requirements that must be met first. Those include:

  • The harassment must be pervasive enough that the victim can’t avoid it.
  • It must be in relation to a protected group, like disability, race, religion, gender, etc. If you’ve been discriminated against or poorly treated in your work place because of your dyslexia, autism, or other neurological difference, this point applies.
  • It must be repeated.

One of the biggest problems about taking action to stop hostility on an official level is that the burden is on you to prove it’s happening, despite your efforts to stop it. If people in power are the ones harassing you, that can be extremely difficult to do, especially if they don’t explicitly state your disability is the cause of their actions.

The good news is that if you think you are the victim of ongoing harassment, there are distinct steps to take.

1. Try resolving it yourself in a civil manner by talking directly to the offending party(s) and requesting they stop. If you’re not comfortable doing that, go to a manager or the human resources department with your concerns. They may be able to give you suggestions about how to handle the events.

2.If the harassment doesn’t ebb after you’ve made reasonable attempts to stop it, bring it to the attention of management and/or the Human Resources department. The company you work for might have an individual assigned to this task. I’d also suggest keeping a written record of dates, times, names and what happens as well, so you have something tangible to use in your defense.

From there, the person in charge should take internal action to mediate and resolve the issue.

3. It’s possible that either the people in power won’t take action, or it doesn’t work. Once all internal procedures are exhausted, you can file a complaint with your government. In the US, that’s the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. You can do so either through their web page, by letter or with a phone call.

Before filing a complaint, though, check to see if your company falls under its jurisdiction. You can see the requirements here. If your company qualifies, they must then cooperate with what this commission has to say.

4. The very last step is to take legal action. This option is very expensive in terms of money, time and energy, but if the situation is bad enough, it may be worth it.

Most of the time, harassment ends at the first or second step. Remember, you have the right to make a living in a safe work environment. If you’re being unfairly targeted, take action as soon as you can.

If you ever feel as if you’re in physical danger, don’t hesitate to talk to management, or call 911 if the threat is immanent. Your safety is more important than office politics.

As always, if you have any other suggestions or stories to share, please leave them in comments. Also, if you have state or country specific resources organizations, please share those as well!

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