Thursday, February 10, 2011

The asshole defense to harassment claims

Fortunately or unfortunately, not all upsetting or even mean-spirited conduct in the workplace is actionable. In the absence of an employee’s membership in a protected class, participation in a protected activity, or a clear public policy that prohibits the employer’s conduct, an employee cannot maintain a claim for harassment merely because his employment has become unpleasant or undesirable.

In other words, as an Ohio appellate court recently pointed out in Kimmel v. Lowe’s Inc. (quoted above), there is no law against general incivility in the workplace. Merely because the law does not provide a remedy against someone for being an asshole does not mean that you, as an employer, need to tolerate it. That decision, though, is an organizational one, not a legal one.

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