A Closer Look at Workplace Harassment Cases in North Carolina & South Carolina

Workplace harassment is more than dealing with a rude co-worker or a jerk boss: it is unlawful behavior that can create a toxic work environment. Many employees suffer in silence from fear of retaliation, while others simply don’t know who to talk to or how to report workplace harassment in North Carolina and South Carolina. This guide can help you get started.

Everyone deserves to work in a place where they feel safe and are treated with respect. While an isolated remark or a single off-color joke may not constitute illegal action on its own, it may give way to a pattern of harmful behavior affecting your entire workplace. If you believe you have experienced harassment in your workplace, or been a victim of harmful and discriminatory behavior, contact our workplace harassment lawyers in North Carolina and South Carolina.

What is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is unwanted speech or conduct in a place of employment, which is based on a person’s age, disability, national origin, race, religion and/or sex. This also includes harassment based on a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Protected classes of employees are defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and by state law in North Carolina and South Carolina. 

Workplace harassment does not include simple teasing. To meet the criteria of a workplace harassment case, the questionable behavior should meet one of these guidelines:

  • Enduring the harassment is a condition of continuing employment; OR
  • The behavior is serious or pervasive enough to create a hostile, toxic work environment.

A variety of behaviors can be unwanted or unwelcome: including physical, psychological, verbal, and online harassment or cyberbullying. Workplace sexual harassment is also a serious concern, and demonstrates how workplace harassment can be a single incident of severe and wrongful behavior. 

It is important to note that anyone can be a victim of harassment in a toxic workplace — it can be reported by an employee even if they were not the “target” of the harassment they were exposed to, and even if there were no tangible financial losses. The aggressor may be a manager or supervisor, but it could also be a co-worker, vendor, contractor, customer or other employee. “Where can workplace harassment occur?” is another frequently asked question, and the law recognizes it can take place both onsite and off-site from an employee’s workplace. 

Most Common Types of Workplace Harassment

There are two common types of workplace harassment: hostile environment harassment and quid pro quo.

Hostile environment harassment refers to the creation of a harmful or offensive culture at work. Workplace harassment examples reported in a hostile environment typically include:

  • Offensive or suggestive jokes 
  • Slurs or epithets 
  • Ridicule, mockery or name calling
  • Violence or threat of violence 
  • Stalking or intimidation
  • Gossiping or spreading rumors
  • Interfering with job performance
  • Offensive objects, pictures or gestures
  • Excluding or ignoring
  • Insulting or putting someone down

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase which translates to “a favor for a favor.” This refers to a tangible employment action resulting from illegal behavior, or from the victim’s refusal to participate in it. Tangible employment actions commonly used to subordinate employees are:

  • Negative workload increase
  • Demotion or undesirable reassignment
  • Wrongful termination
  • Compensation and benefits decisions
  • Promotion or failure to promote
  • Failure to hire

Fear of retaliation keeps many employees from reporting harmful, illegal behavior at work — or serves as a barrier from getting help sooner. However, retaliation is also against the law. Federal and state law in North Carolina and South Carolina prohibits retaliation against an employee who reports, testifies, or otherwise participates in proceedings related to a claim of workplace harassment discrimination.

Even in situations where the behavior is not unlawful, harassment at work is always wrong. Employers should seek to maintain and enforce a “Zero Tolerance” policy, and to promptly investigate any complaints in a manner that is objective and fair.   

How to Report Workplace Harassment in North Carolina & South Carolina:

  • Step 1: Report Concerns to Your Employer.
    If you have been harassed at work, notifying your employer is the first step. Follow the exact process to report a complaint that is outlined in your employee handbook, if one has been provided, or contact Human Resources to ask for help. If neither is an option, report your concerns to your supervisor, or to a trusted supervisor in another department (even if they are not your direct manager). Be sure to mention the type of discrimination you believe the harassment is related to in your complaint to ensure your report is protected by the law. 

    Many employees are scared to take this first step to report workplace harassment, and it is easy to understand why. Remember, it is illegal for your employer to take action against you for filing a complaint. However, you have the right to contact a workplace harassment attorney at any time, and you can do so before or after reporting any complaints to your employer.
  • Step 2: File a Complaint with the EEOC.
    If the situation is not successfully resolved after reporting concerns to your employer, you could contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, we do not recommend that you go there without an attorney, as they are often looking for reasons to reject unrepresented harassment victims. The EEOC is the agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. A charge of discrimination can be filed online or in person, at the state or regional EEOC office near you. If you have already contacted a workplace discrimination attorney about your case, they can file this complaint for you.

    NOTE: You must meet the EEOC’s established time limits to file a Charge of Discrimination. In North Carolina, action must be taken within 180 days (approximately six months) after the primary incident occurred, and in South Carolina, action must be taken within 300 days (approximately 10 months).
  • Step 3: Suing an Employer for Workplace Harassment.
    Once a Charge of Discrimination is filed, the EEOC has up to 180 days (six months) to act, which could mean anything from initiating an investigation to successfully resolving the complaint.

    If no action has been taken after 180 days, or if the complaint has not been fully resolved during this time, you can request authorization to proceed with filing a harassment lawsuit against your employer via a Right to Sue Letter. Once a Right to Sue Letter is issued, there is a 90-day deadline to file a lawsuit — so it is important to contact your workplace harassment lawyers before requesting a Right to Sue letter.  

Knowing who to report workplace harassment to in North Carolina and South Carolina is key to getting justice. Read more about how to file an employment discrimination lawsuit.

Contact Our Workplace Harassment Employment Discrimination Lawyers

Working with a reputable attorney can help you navigate employer responsibilities for workplace harassment in North Carolina and South Carolina, and help make things right when you have been wronged. To discuss the details of your case in a confidential consultation, contact the law office of Herrmann & Murphy.

  • Call (704) 940-6399 to schedule a consultation with the workplace harassment attorneys at our Charlotte office in North Carolina.
  • Call (864) 516-7526 to schedule a consultation with the workplace harassment attorneys at our Greenville office in South Carolina.