By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 6

In this column:

  • Can You File a Charge Because Someone Else Was Sexually Harassed?
  • When Everybody Else Knows You're About to be Fired
  • Policies on Prayer in the Workplace

Can You File a Charge Because Someone Else Was Sexually Harassed?

The owner of the small business that I worked for was aware that his kitchen manager had sexually harassed (inappropriate language, touching, and gestures) almost every female employee that he ever worked with. Because I was a friend of the owner, he never did it to me. The owner had several incidents brought to his attention and dismissed them because he stated that he needed this employee to open his business at 6:00 AM. I finally found this situation so intolerable that I had to quit. Can I take any action against the owner for failing to act on these complaints?

The Commissioner says:

You can't file a charge of discrimination because of something that happened to someone else. Only the person who is actually aggrieved or harmed by the discrimination can file a charge. However, if you believe and can demonstrate that the kitchen manager's behavior created an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for you, you may have a case. How often did the behavior occur? What exactly was said and done? How were you personally affected? These are some of the questions we would need to ask to determine if there is probable cause to believe you were a victim. Please contact our intake department at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704 if you would like to pursue this.

When Everybody Else Knows You're About to be Fired

I was just recently let go from my job and I found out the day I was let go that people I worked with and people at other stores in our company knew I was fired two days before I knew. Is that a violation of some type of privacy rights?

The Commissioner says:

It is an extremely poor practice for a company to disclose its intention to fire an employee to that employee's coworkers, but we know of no law prohibiting an employer from doing so. Our department enforces the state Human Rights Act, which prohibits an employer from treating an employee adversely based on race, sex, disability, religion, age, color, national origin, sexual orientation, creed, and several other "protected class" reasons. Why were you let go? If you have reason to believe that your race, sex, a disability or one of the other characteristics I've mentioned was involved, we'd like to know more. If you believe that your employer's decision to disclose your impending termination was related to one of these reasons, we'd also like more information. But if none of the reasons I've mentioned were a factor, there's no violation of the Human Rights Act, and there's no indication that your employer has broken any other laws, either.

Policies on Prayer in the Workplace

I saw a recent article about prayer in the workplace, which said there is a detailed prayer policy that can be a model for other businesses. Is it possible to see a copy of the policy for developing our own?

The Commissioner says:

The Department of Human Rights does not have a prayer policy. The state Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion, and the duty to not discriminate can sometimes include the duty to accommodate certain religious practices, including prayer. But the type of accommodation an employer would need to make could vary. In some situations, an employer could be required to allow time for "prayer breaks," for example. But the employer might not be required to make such an accommodation in other situations, particularly if it would cause the business an undue hardship. In general, the Department of Human Rights does not issue guidelines to tell employers how they should run their businesses to be in compliance with the Human Rights Act. We require that they not discriminate, and when discrimination is alleged, we consider the specific facts of each individual case.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

Column Archive

View a complete index of the Commissioner's Columns in the Column Archive.


Do you have a human rights question for the Commissioner?

Submit your question here.