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Harassment - Essay Example

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Until the later half of the 20th century, harassment was not defined legally in either the United States or Europe. However, since the 1970s both the US and the EU have expanded the definition and have implemented laws that prohibit its use. Most legal ramifications of harassment, primarily sexual harassment, arise from the workplace where employment protection has been at issue…
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Defining Harassment Until the later half of the 20th century, harassment was not defined legally in either the United s or Europe. However, since the 1970s both the US and the EU have expanded the definition and have implemented laws that prohibit its use. Most legal ramifications of harassment, primarily sexual harassment, arise from the workplace where employment protection has been at issue. Harassment may be sexual, bullying, insulting, or intimidating. The challenge for all legal systems is to construct a definition that makes clear when annoying behavior crosses the line and becomes harassment.
Directive 2002/73/EC of the European Parliament amended Council Directive 76/207/EEC to include a more clear definition of harassment and to provide for greater worker protection. The Directive defined harassment as, "[...] unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" (European Parliament, 2002). The purpose of the directive was to protect equal access to employment, education, opportunity, and working conditions.
Individual EU states can pass laws that are more restrictive that the EU standard, but they are required to attain the minimum standard set by Directive 2002/73/EC. Ireland broadly defines harassment as, "spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of written words, pictures or other material which is unwelcome and could reasonably be regarded as offensive, humiliating, or intimidating" (Quinlivan, 2004). Outside the workplace harassment may include threatening telephone calls, bullying, stalking, or instilling fear through intimidation.
According to the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, sexual harassment in the workplace in the United States is defined as "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature [...]" (Sexual Harassment, 2006). The 1986 ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, found that employers could also be held liable for maintaining a hostile work environment and set the standard of "unwelcome behavior" as the test for infringement (Cornell University, 1986). Current law in respect to workplace harassment is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While sexual harassment has been analyzed and well litigated, rulings on other forms of harassment have been far less objective and less well defined. Context, situation, and cultural variances may all weigh into the final definition of harassment. What may be considered harassment in the workplace may not be a crime in a personal setting. Likewise, judges and juries must weigh and examine each case on its individual merits. In general, the behavior must be "severe and pervasive" to meet the standard for prosecution. In the case of Etter vs. Veriflo Corp. a California court ruled that, "[...] calling an employee "Buckwheat" on one or two occasions, and sporadic other remarks that the plaintiff found racially offensive were insufficient for a finding of racial harassment " (Oppenheimer & Pratt, 2002).
The definition of harassment, though marginally different in the US and the EU, has as its primary intent to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. In personal settings, judges and juries find it necessary to weigh the intent and severity of the actions to determine if harassment has occurred. Courts have consistently tried to draw a sharper line that will define when behavior that is merely annoying crosses the line and becomes harassment.
References
Cornell University. (1986). Supreme Court collection. Albany, NY: Cornell Law School. Retrieved November 4, 2006, from http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0477_0057_ZS.html
European Parliament (2002, May 10). Retrieved November 4, 2006, from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/FindByProcnum.dolang=2&procnum=COD/2000/0142
Oppenheimer, A., & Pratt, C. (2002). Investigating workplace harassment: How to be fair, thorough, and legal. Alexandria, VA: Society For Human Resource Management. Retrieved November 4, 2006, from http://www.shrm.org/books/investigatingharassment/excerpt.asp
Quinlivan, S. (2004, May). Summary report Ireland. Retrieved November 4, 2006, from http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/fundamental_rights/pdf/aneval/disab_irl.pdf
Sexual harassment (2006, March 29). Retrieved November 4, 2006, from http://www.eeoc.gov/types/sexual_harassment.html Read More
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