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Psychological Harassment in the Workplace

Behavior that is characteristically repetitive and intends to harm through mental agony or causing a person to be upset is known as psychological harassment. From a legal point of view, such behavior is abusive, intimidating or humiliating and is found to be threatening. Most often, such behavior leaves behind no legal evidence except for complaints or reports by the victims, who suffer torment and lowered self-esteem. Psychological harassment can range from verbal abuse to aggressive and intimidating actions. When this occurs at the victim’s workplace, it is especially upsetting as it also can affect work performance. Below, Legal Experts answer questions on what you can do about psychological harassment at the workplace.

Is keeping journal admissible evidence against a supervisor who has been psychologically harassing me in closed meetings?

Case Details: I was told that if he finds out that I voice-recorded our conversations, he can fire me immediately. 

You do have the legal rights to record conversations without your boss’ knowledge or consent. Oklahoma Statutes Title 13, Section 176.4(5) makes Oklahoma a one-party state. This makes it legal for a one party to a conversation to record it without the other party’s knowledge and present it as evidence in court. However, while the law may permit you to record your conversations, it does not mean that your employer cannot terminate you for doing so.

As evidence is crucial in such cases, you may ask a third party to be present in the meetings as witness to the harassments. For written evidence, you may keep reporting the harassment to the HR or senior management, which would also record a pattern of such behavior.

Keeping a journal that records all meetings promptly would show that you did not write them as an afterthought, post filing a lawsuit. Recording related events of the day, like the news or weather, would indicate the timely manner in which they were recorded.

Can I claim damages if I quit my job and moved to another state due to extreme ‘Psychological Harassment’ by my manager? 

Case Details: I have clearly mentioned the reasons for my resignation as a result of their actions, yet I have not heard from them. 

In Washington DC, you are an “At Will” employee, which means that your employer is not obliged by a contract or office policies to act in a certain manner, which is perhaps why they have not responded.

If the harassment faced by you was based on any prohibited reasons like race, sex, color, national origin, etc., you may file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOCC). You must do this before the statute of limitations on filing such suits expires. However, if employer’s motivation for harassment was “intentional infliction of emotional distress”, which led to your mental anguish and misery, you may have a claim for personal injury.

Finally, though you resigned voluntarily, your reasons for resigning may fall under “constructive termination”, which makes it the same as them terminating you.

What’s the legal recourse against a manager I have faced physical abuse from for the past five years?

Case Details: The manager hit me on the head with clipboards, shoved an insect down the front of my shirt, and squirted lotion on me on several occasions. 

Intimidation, ridicule, insult, or illegal discrimination creates a hostile work environment and alters your condition of employment. To be termed as psychological harassment at workplace, the employee must be able to show that such offensive behavior is pervasive, which it is in your case.

You will need to document the evidence of the abuse you are facing so as to proceed with criminal action against your manager. However, you must first report your manager’s actions to the top executives and send a copy to the HR. In your communication, you may request to be removed from the hostile work environment and report to another manager. You could also request to be shielded from retaliation for reporting the harassment. Additionally, you may consider filing a complaint with EOCC as well as with the Human Rights Commission.

Do I have any legal grounds to sue my adviser for psychological harassment in this case?

Case Details: Due to severe mental harassment from my professor – of which I have email evidence – I had to stay another semester with my own funding to finish my PhD. This cost me $6000. 

Psychological harassment through intentional infliction of emotional and mental distress is met with skepticism in courts unless the conduct is “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community”. In similar cases, courts have held that the plaintiff must provide evidence that meets a “strict standard” to avoid dismissal of his/her claim of psychological harassment. Hence, you may have to prove that the supervisor’s actions severed no legitimate purpose other than the sole intention of inflicting emotional distress.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination at work based on color, religion, sex, or national origin. Illegal discrimination is one of the most commonly filed harassment suits. However, in many cases, gathering evidence is difficult as the harassment is either verbal or is not witnessed. If you have been a victim of psychological harassment at your workplace, write to Legal Experts to get an insight into your rights and future course of action.

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