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How to determine if you are a victim of workplace harassment in Chicago

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The city of Chicago is the third-largest in the country. It accounts for over 20% of Illinois’s population, and, with nearly three million citizens, it is more populous than 15 states. It’s no surprise, then, that it has its own set of laws governing employment, including ordinances which define workplace harassment, and set out punishments for employers who allow it.

Workplace harassment is defined as slurs and other verbal or physical conduct that creates (or is intended to create) a hostile work environment, interferes or is meant to interfere with an individual’s work performance, or adversely affects an individual’s employment opportunities.

In the city of Chicago, the robust protections given to employees mean that you may be a victim of workplace harassment and entitled to damages, without even knowing it. That’s why an experienced Chicago workplace harassment attorney can help you. Call Conexion Legal at 1-800-201-1220 or write to us through WhatsApp to receive free legal advice. If you need legal representation, we can connect you to workplace harassment attorneys in our network.

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Three forms of workplace harassment

Just because workplace harassment may not be visible does not mean it doesn’t exist. Harassment can take many forms, not all of them overt.

  1. Verbal/written: This includes sending emails with offensive jokes, graphics or photos about race, religion, sex, gender, disabilities or medical conditions. Even if such an email was sent to a small group of workers, it can be forwarded, circulated and seen by many more.

    Verbal or written harassment can also entail making repeated sexual advances or requesting sexual favors verbally, through texts or emails, or physical notes. Any verbal or written questions pertaining to a person’s family history of illness or genetic disorders, derogatory comments about age or ability or mocking imitations of a co-worker’s foreign accent fall under this category.  
  2. Physical: Even physical harassment can be difficult to spot, because it may come in forms that seem to others like harmless fun. Lewd or suggestive hand gestures fall under this category. A male coworker touching a female coworker’s behind without her consent is an obvious act of harassment, but even frequent unwanted touching — caressing an arm, stroking a leg under a table, even rubbing a coworker’s back — is considered harassment if the act makes the subject of those touches uncomfortable.

    Frequently following or standing too close to a person on purpose, making sexually suggestive hand or facial gestures and playing offensive music with degrading lyrics can all be considered physical harassment. This type of behavior, like verbal and written harassment, does not have to be directed at a person to be harassment.
  3. Visual: Visual harassment is the most subjective form of harassment, because different images are offensive to different people. This could include wearing clothing with offensive, suggestive or vulgar language; displaying suggestive posters or pictures; showing sexually explicit text messages or emails to coworkers; watching pornographic or violent videos or drawing and displaying offensive, suggestive or derogatory images. All of these can create a hostile work environment.

Three common types of workplace harassment

Harassment often consists of a series of incidents or behaviors that, when taken together, are found to create a hostile work environment. Stray remarks and isolated incidents may not be sufficient to violate the City of Chicagos anti-harassment ordinance, if those behaviors are not severe or pervasive.

Employers may be held responsible for the harassing conduct of supervisors and other agents of the company. They can also be held responsible for harassment by non-supervisory personnel, if they were aware of the conduct but failed to act. Individual harassers, as well, can be held liable for their own conduct.


The Chicago Human Rights Ordinance expressly prohibits workplace harassment based on race, national origin, ancestry, religion (or lack thereof), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, parental status, age, disability, source of income, military discharge status or credit history. Being excluded from work functions because of your membership in these protected classes is also considered discrimination and harassment. Co-workers using racially negative language or stereotypes on a regular basis directed toward you or another co-worker falls under this type.

Penalties for violations of Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance face fines of $100 to $500, payable to the city, damages and attorney fees for the complaining party and an injunction ordering specific remedies be taken to eliminate discriminator practices.

A person who claims to have been subjected to workplace harassment within the city may file a discrimination complaint at the Commission on Human Relations, which investigates and rules on each discrimination complaint, giving complainants and respondents the opportunity to present evidence and legal arguments.

Sexual harassment

The city of Chicago prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. While the #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on men sexually harassing women by exploiting Hollywood’s power imbalance, it is important to remember that sexual harassment does not only occur between men and women. 

Sexual harassment can include:

  • Repeated and unwelcome sexually suggestive comments, gestures, communications, drawings or pictures
  • Unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature — stroking, petting, groping, grabbing and contact with genital areas
  • Subtle or direct threats that employment, promotion or favorable treatment in the workplace is contingent on a sexual or personal relationship, or sexual favors

Bullying or cyberbullying

Workplace bullying is repeated behavior that offends, humiliates, sabotages and intimidates co-workers. It involves repeated malicious behavior either in person or online. It can take the form of insults, threats, demeaning remarks, constant criticism, overbearing supervision by a supervisor, profane outbursts and intentionally leaving a co-worker out of important communications. 

Cyberbullying is no longer just a teenage issue. It involves emails or text messages containing offensive remarks, jokes or wording targeting a specific individual’s race, gender, nationality or sexual preference. It can also include forwarding to an entire office an email which was intended to be a personal correspondence, without the permission of the sender.

If you feel you’ve been a victim of any of these behaviors, call Conexion Legal at 1-800-201-1220 or write to us through WhatsApp to receive free legal advice. If you need legal representation, we have experienced Chicago-based attorneys in our network, and can connect you to workplace harassment attorneys who specialize in cases like yours.

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