Risk Management

Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors

/ May 11, 2015 May 11, 2015


The EEOC’s Guidance on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors provides practical guidance regarding the duty of employers to prevent and correct harassment and the duty of employees to avoid harassment by using their employers’ complaint procedures.

1. When does harassment violate federal law?

Harassment violates federal law if it involves discriminatory treatment based on race, color, sex (with or without sexual conduct), religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or because the employee opposed job discrimination or participated in an investigation or complaint proceeding. Federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. The conduct must be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment or result in a tangible employment action.

2. Does the guidance apply only to sexual harassment?

No, it applies to all types of unlawful harassment.

3. When is an employer legally responsible for harassment by a supervisor?

An employer is always responsible for harassment by a supervisor that culminated in a tangible employment action. If the harassment did not lead to a tangible employment action, the employer may still be liable unless it proves that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassment and the employee unreasonably failed to complain to management or to otherwise avoid harm.

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