New Montgomery County Law Significantly Expands the Definition of Workplace Harassment

New Montgomery County Law Significantly Expands the Definition of Workplace Harassment

| Nov 20, 2020 | Employment Law, Sexual Harassment |

On January 15, 2021, a new law will go into effect in Montgomery County that will dramatically change the definition of workplace “harassment.”  Previously, in order for workplace harassment to be actionable, it needed to be “severe or pervasive.”  Generally, this meant that one-off incidents or off-color jokes weren’t enough to sustain a hostile environment claim.  However, Montgomery County has followed in New York’s footsteps and has instead adopted the “reasonable victim” standard in place of the “severe or pervasive” standard.  Under the new law, harassment is actionable if “a reasonable person would consider the conduct to be more than a petty slight, trivial inconvenience, or minor annoyance.”

This new definition is significant because it significantly lowers the bar for employees who want to bring a hostile environment claim.  Whereas one-off incidents were previously insufficient, isolated acts of harassment may now be enough, even if they are not “severe.”  The “reasonable victim” standard applies not just to sexual harassment, but to harassment concerning any of the following protected categories:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • ancestry
  • national origin
  • age
  • sex
  • marital status
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • familial responsibility
  • genetic status

Employers may be worried that this new law will expose them to greater liability and imposes what Justice Scalia called “a civility code” on the workplace.  However, the goal of the new law is to prevent serious incidents of harassment before they happen, and thereby nip costly lawsuits for employers in the bud.  Employers in Montgomery County should consult with an attorney to ensure that their Employee Handbooks and harassment policies reflect the new “reasonable victim” standard.  If you have any questions about Montgomery County’s new harassment law, or any area of employment law, contact Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400. www.ThatcherLaw.com. Email me at [email protected].  Follow us on: