People often contact me because they believe they’re being harassed at work, treated unfairly, or have been wrongfully terminated. Really weird stuff happens at work.

But most of what people think is “harassment” or “wrongful” is neither — at least legally.

In employment law, illegal harassment must be based on a protected factor. Under Federal law, the protected factors are race/color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, age, and genetic information. Sometimes, sexual preference and transgender can be protected when there is discrimination based on sexual stereotyping. Status as a parent or being a caregiver can also be protected. Additional factors like being a nursing mother, unemployed, or a victim of domestic violence are protected under state and local laws. Every state has to follow the federal laws that prohibit discrimination. But each state is also free to add additional protected factors. Some cities like Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco have further protections for people who live and work there. So whether or not particular conduct is illegal depends on where you are.

With harassment, if it is based on religion, race, sex, or other protected factors, that is illegal. But harassment because someone doesn’t get the work done, or doesn’t like you is legal.

Similarly, “wrongful termination” is only wrongful when it is based on some other illegal conduct. Examples are if the termination was based on a protected factor or retaliation for complaining about discrimination. It can also be wrongful termination if the person was fired for some other protected activity like complaining about safety practices, or wage hour violations. But most terminations are not wrongful because most employment is at-will. At-will means an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason — fair or unfair.

Basically, it’s perfectly legal to be an asshole.

But even when there is no illegal discrimination, a workplace full of harassment by complete jerks is not a good place to work. Lawsuits don’t fix discrimination anyway. They just move some money around, often, mostly to lawyers.

So if you are being treated unfairly and harassed, you probably don’t need a lawyer.

You need a new job.

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