What should I know about harassment at work?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Read this in: Spanish / Español

Harassment at work

Harassment laws at work in Georgia


What is harassment?

Harassment can be verbal or physical. Harassment might be:

  • Offensive jokes,

  • Slurs or name calling,

  • Physical assault or threats,

  • Intimidation,

  • Ridicule or mockery,

  • Insults or put-downs,

  • Offensive objects or pictures, or

  • Interference with your work performance


Sexual harassment might be:

  • Unwelcome sexaul advances, 

  • Requests for sexual favors, or 

  • Other harassment that is sexual in nature. 


Harassment is not:

  • Simple teasing,

  • Offhand comments, or 

  • One-time incidents unless they are very serious. 


Harassment at work can come from any person in your workplace, including:

  • Your boss,

  • A co-worker,

  • Someone who is regularly in your workplace even if they do not work for your employer. This includes:

    • Independent contractors, or

    • Customers. 


The harassment does not have to be:

  • Directed at you. You just have to be affected by the harassment.

  • Harming you economically. You don’t have to be fired or demoted to have a claim.

Back to top

What are my rights if I am harassed at work?

Harassment at work is illegal under the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The Civil Rights Act and ADA apply to employers who have 15 or more employees. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees.


Under these laws, you have the right to a workplace where you are not harassed by fellow employees because of:

  • Race/Color, 

  • Ethnicity,

  • National origin,

  • Religion,

  • Sex (including pregnancy),

  • Age, 

  • Disability, or

  • Genetic Information.

The harassment must be connected to your inclusion in one of these protected categories to be illegal under federal or Georgia law.


You also cannot be harassed because you:

  • Filed a discrimination charge,

  • Participated in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit, or 

  • Opposed an employment practice you think is discriminatory. 


Not all bad treatment is considered illegal harassment. Harassment becomes illegal when:

  • To keep your job, you must continue to face the harassment, or

  • The harassment is so bad that most people would consider your workplace to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive.


You also have the right not to be retaliated against for reporting harassment. 


Your employer might also have a harassment or discrimination policy that gives you rights. Consult a lawyer to see if you might have a harassment claim.

Back to top

What are an employer’s responsibilities when it comes to harassment in the workplace?

An employer is responsible for creating a workplace where harassment is not allowed. 


An employer is legally responsible for harassment that happens in the workplace IF:

  • The harassment is by a supervisor and because of the harassment you are:

    • Fired,

    • Not promoted or hired, or

    • You lose wages.

  • A supervisor’s harassment creates a hostile work environment. However, an employer will not be legally responsible if:

    • The employer tried to correct the behavior, AND

    • You unreasonably failed to take advantage of something that would have prevented or corrected the problem. 

  • The harassment comes from any other employee or person in the workplace that the employer has control over, if:

    • The employer knew or should have known about the harassment AND

    • The employer did not take quick and appropriate action.

Back to top


How can I file a complaint for harassment at work?

If you have been harassed at work, you must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Equal Employment Division (EED) BEFORE you can file a lawsuit against your employer. There are different procedures depending on what kind of employer you work for. 


How to file a complaint if your employer has 15 or more employees 

If you work for an employer with 15 or more employees (or 20 or more for an age discrimination claim), you have 180 days from the date of the harassment to file a charge with the EEOC.


Begin the process:

  • Online through the EEOC’s Public Portal

    • Start by submitting an inquiry. This will help the EEOC to decide if they can handle your complaint. 

    • After your inquiry, you can schedule an inquiry interview. The interview will be in person or over the phone with an EEOC staff person.  The staff person will discuss your case, your rights and responsibilities and the process.

    • Once you have the interview, you will get instructions for filing a charge.

  • In person at your local EEOC office.

    • You can make an appointment online or walk-in. Bring any documents or information that supports your claim. 

    • The staff person will discuss your case, your rights and responsibilities and the process.

    • Once you have the interview, you will get instructions for filing a charge.


What happens after I file an EEOC charge?

After you file an EEOC charge, the EEOC has 10 days to contact your employer. The employer will get information about the charge. 


The EEOC will then investigate your claim. During the investigation, your employer may try to mediate or settle your charge. This is completely up to you. You do not have to accept any settlement offer or agree to mediation.


After the investigation, the EEOC will decide whether there is enough evidence to conclude harassment or discrimination happened.

  • If they cannot conclude that the harassment happened, you will get a notice called a Dismissal and Notice of Rights. Once you get this, you will have 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court.

  • If they conclude there is reasonable cause to believe there was harassment, both you and your employer will get a Letter of Determination. This letter invites you both to try to resolve the claim through an informal mediation process. This is called conciliation.

  • If you can’t resolve the issue through conciliation, the EEOC will either:

    • File a lawsuit in federal court on your behalf, or 

    • Send you a Notice of Right to Sue. Once you get this, you will have 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court.


How to file a complaint if I am a federal employee or job applicant

There is a different process if you are a federal employee or job applicant. 

  • You must first contact an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Counselor for your agency within 45 days of the harassment.

  • The EEO counselor will give you the choice of EEO counseling or a mediation program. 

  • If you do not settle the claim, you can file a formal complaint against the agency with the agency’s EEO Office. You must file this within 15 days of getting notice from the EEO Counselor about how to file a complaint.

  • The agency will then investigate. It has 180 days to finish the investigation. You will then get two choices:

    • Either request a hearing with an EEOC Administrative Judge.

      • You must request a hearing within 30 days.

      • If you disagree with the judge’s decision you can appeal the decision to the EEOC or file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.

    • Ask the agency to make a decision.

      • If you ask the agency to make a decision and they find no discrimination, you can appeal the decision to the EEOC or file a lawsuit in federal district court within 90 days.


How to file a complaint if I am a State of Georgia employee

If you are an employee of the State of Georgia, you must first file a complaint with the Georgia Equal Employment Division (EED). You have 180 days from the harassment to file your complaint. 


The EED will then either:

  • Investigate the complaint or

  • Refer the complaint to the EEOC to investigate.


During the investigation, the EED will likely ask you to settle or mediate your complaint. This is completely voluntary. You do not have to agree to any settlement unless you want to. 

Back to top

What can I do if I work for an employer that has less than 15 employees?

Federal harassment and discrimination laws only cover employers with a certain number of employees. Georgia does not have an anti-harassment or anti-discrimination law that covers employers with fewer employees. 


If you are being discriminated against at work and your employer is not covered under these laws, you may or may not have a legal claim. Contact an attorney to discuss your rights.

Back to top

More info


Last Review and Update: Apr 28, 2022
Was this information helpful?
Back to top