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Can I Sue for Harassment if I Quit?

Employment law allows you to sue an employer for harassment when you quit. Quitting a job may mean losing unemployment benefits, but you can still sue for harassment or discrimination.

If you want to sue your employer before or after quitting, you should get legal advice from an experienced wrongful termination attorney.

What Is Harassment on the Job?

Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on an employee's sex, race, color, disability, or other protected class. A can file a lawsuit if they file a claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after experiencing harassment. A claim, or "charge," for unlawful harassment can help the worker recover back pay, benefits, medical bills, and other monetary damages.

Harassment generally goes beyond just teasing or petty comments. Unlawful mistreatment means the conduct is unwelcome or unwanted and is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile workplace or abusive working conditions.

Some examples of offensive conduct may include:

Offensive conduct and harassment can happen between any people in the workplace. The harasser could be a supervisor, boss, co-worker, or contractor. When a worker complains to an employer about harassment, the employer should take immediate action to stop any further offensive conduct.

The employer handles the supervisor's conduct if a supervisor harasses an employee. If another employee is the harasser, the employer could face trouble if they knew about or should have known about the conduct and didn't take action.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

hostile work environment is where it becomes almost impossible to do the functions of your job without interference or fear.

Generally, a single event does not create a hostile environment. Harassment has to be something that is severe or happens many times. How bad was the conduct? How often does it happen? If it is bad enough to create an abusive workplace, it's likely harassment.

Constructive Discharge and Quitting

Discharge is another term for firing. A constructive discharge claim means the worker quits or resigns because they experienced harassment. If the employee quits because of the employer's unlawful discrimination, the former employer may be responsible, just as if they fired the employee because the harassment forced them to quit.

If you want to sue your employer for constructive discharge, you must follow a process. Your first step is to file a complaint (called a “charge") with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A charge is a signed statement that asserts you were the victim of unlawful discrimination and asks the EEOC to help.

What Types of Harassment Are Illegal at Work?

State and federal laws protect employees from harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Each state's discrimination and harassment laws may differ, but some states have greater worker protections than federal law. The primary federal laws that protect against employment discrimination are:

These laws protect workers from harassment and discrimination based on specific categories or protected classes. Federally protected classes protect workers from harassment based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • National origin
  • Workers age 40 or older
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Sexual Harassment 

Sexual harassment can happen in all workplaces, from restaurants to hospitals to small retail shops. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other sexual conduct that creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can include unwanted physical touching, making inappropriate sexual jokes, or sharing graphic pictures.

Another type of sexual harassment is "quid pro quo." Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a manager or supervisor offering a benefit to an employee in exchange for sexual favors.

Most sexual harassment claims involve a male harasser and a female victim. But, sexual harassment can happen regardless of gender, such as a female supervisor harassing a male employee or same-sex harassment.

Harassment for Race, Religion, or National Origin

There is a long history of discrimination based on race and color in the United States. Discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin is illegal. This includes harassment based on perceived race, religion, or national origin. For example, if an employee harasses a co-worker because they think the co-worker is Muslim, it is still considered harassment if the worker is Protestant.

Harassment can still occur between people of the same race, religion, or national origin. If a supervisor from Brazil harasses another Brazilian employee based on their race or national origin, it is still unlawful harassment.

Disability Harassment

Harassment and discrimination based on disability or perceived disability are illegal under the ADA. Harassment can include making jokes about a disability or claiming the disabled employee is faking their disability to get out of work. When disability harassment has become so severe it creates a hostile workplace, the worker can file an EEOC claim against the employer.

Sex and Gender Discrimination

Sex and gender discrimination laws protect workers from unlawful harassment based on the worker's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy. LGBTQ+ workers may experience harassment because of their actual or perceived gender identity or orientation. Like sexual harassment, sex, and gender discrimination can include a victim and harasser of the same sex or different sex.

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination laws protect workers who are age 40 or older. Harassment can include:

  • Offensive jokes about a worker's age
  • Berating an older worker because of their age
  • Making the job so terrible for the older worker that they will have to quit

Federal age discrimination laws only apply to older workers; a 16-year-old, for example, is generally not protected from discrimination laws because an employer says they're too young for a job.

Can I Quit Due To Harassment?

Workplace harassment is stressful, humiliating, and frightening. But you don't have to quit to sue. You can file a complaint with the EEOC or your employer when you face harassment. Sometimes, the harassment is so bad that you must quit. Quitting doesn't mean you can't sue for harassment. You can file a complaint while still working or after you quit.

If you quit due to intolerable working conditions or unlawful conduct, you may be able to sue.

What Happens If I Quit My Job Because of Harassment?

Quitting can remove some benefits of getting laid off or fired. If you get laid off, you can recover unemployment compensation while you look for another job. Unemployment can also provide income while you are pursuing a harassment lawsuit. Quitting can also be a negative for future employment, even if you explain that you quit because of harassment.

Can I Sue If I Quit?

Yes, you can sue your employer if you quit. Quitting a job may leave you with fewer options, including loss of unemployment benefits. But, if you get harassed at work and quit, you can still file a harassment lawsuit against the employer. Depending on your lawsuit, talk to your employment lawyer about how you can sue for back pay, emotional distress, legal fees, front pay, loss of benefits, and punitive damages.

How Much Time to Sue for Harassment?

There is a time limit to how long you have to file a harassment claim. According to the EEOC, you need to file a charge within 180 days from the date of the discrimination or the last incident of harassment. If your state law bans discrimination on the same basis, the deadline extends to 300 days. Make sure you talk to an employment lawyer as soon as possible to make sure they file your claim in time.

Can I Get Fired for Reporting Harassment?

If you report harassment to an employer, your employer can't retaliate against you. It is illegal for your employer to take adverse employment action against you because you reported harassment. State and federal labor laws protect workers who get retaliated against for protected activity. Unlawful retaliation is an action that hurts your work environment in response to your report. Retaliation can include:

  • Firing you from your job
  • Threatening to fire you
  • A pay reduction
  • Demotions
  • Loss of benefits

Retaliation laws also apply if you complain about another employee getting harassed. You could always pursue a wrongful termination claim if you get fired illegally.

If You Do Want to Sue for Harassment, Talk to an Experienced Employment Lawyer

Employers and human resources departments know what harassment can mean for the company. Your employer may have lawyers on staff or a law firm dealing with harassment claims.

If you are getting harassed at work, take hold of your legal rights and talk to an experienced workplace harassment lawyer. Forming an attorney-client relationship with an employment attorney lets you get legal advice about your situation. They can help you decide whether to take legal action.

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