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Knowing Your Rights in the Workplace

Employment law is a very complicated field.  It is also very misunderstood. The following information is intended to give you some basic information about what is illegal discrimination and what is illegal harassment in the workplace. Also, we will discuss what you have a right to expect in the workplace and some things that may surprise you about what is “not” illegal in the workplace.

First, let’s look at the following scenarios. Read each scenario and decide if each situation illustrated represents a case of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.  After you make a decision, write yes or no and answer the question of “why”.

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1. A small group of account executives have regular weekly meetings with their manager, John.  John always asks Susan, the only female executive, to serve coffee and refreshments to the others (five males).  Is Susan being sexually harassed?

2. Marcia’s boss asks her to join him for dinner after work to discuss her new project.  Is this harassment?

3. Male students were presented with a written job application (which, unknown to the students, was the same for all applicants) and required to do a telephone interview of a female applicant.  A picture of the applicant (evaluated beforehand by a test group to be a picture of a physically attractive or unattractive female) was attached to the application.  The factual record produced by this process looked like an accurate portrayal of the applicant in every instance.  But the interviews done of attractive applicants were consistently longer.  The interviewer showed interest in the attractive applicant and the applicant responded by bringing out more about her background and qualifications.  It is not that the interviewer falsified the applicant’s answers but that the interviewer never elicited the kind of information in one case he elicited in another.  Moreover, this difference in the interviewer’s interest about the applicant led to a difference in whether the interviewer recommended hiring the applicant.  Is this discrimination?

4. Valerie’s boss offers her a promotion if she agrees to sexual favors.  Valerie accepts and as a result receives the promotion that two other women were striving for. Is this discrimination?

5. Stephen and Susan constantly talk to each other in a suggestive manner.  Stephen remarks how lovely Susan looks each day, while Susan tells Stephen how she enjoys watching him play tennis outside of the building during lunch hour. Is this harassment?

6. The company in this scenario was losing business and had to cut its sales-force back.  The district manager considered what to do and decided to lay two persons off.  He then considered each of the six senior salespersons to let go.  It turns out that a given account – Account X – was posting a large loss.  Two salespersons had been jointly responsible for the account.  Cliff was 39 and Harry was 59 at the time.  The manager had given them both identical performance ratings before the layoff was needed.  Five months before the layoff, the manager stated, “Harry enjoys a good relationship with his customers and is conscientious about increasing sales.”  He stated, “Cliff performs in a very conscientious and consistent manner.”  Regardless of these evaluations, the manager decided to lay off these two men, his two oldest supervisors.  Is this discrimination?



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This program was developed by the West Virginia State Department of Education, the West Virginia Workplace Education Program, and the Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) V.