Montgomery County Vastly Expands Definition of “Harassment”
Employers with employees in Montgomery County should be aware that illegal “harassment” is now defined more broadly than under Maryland state or Federal law.
The expanded county law does the following:
- Specifically prohibits harassment on the basis of any protected characteristic (i.e. race, color, religious creed, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, family responsibilities, genetic status, or disability).
- Broadly defines “harassment” to include verbal, written or physical conduct, even if the conduct does not meet the “severe or pervasive” standard applicable under prior County (or State/Federal) law, as long as the conduct is:
- Based on a protected characteristic;
- One of the following applies: (1) Submission to the conduct is made a term or condition of employment, (2) Submission to or rejection of the conduct is the basis for employment decisions, or (3) the conduct unreasonably interferes with the individual’s work performance or creates a work environment that is perceived by the individual to be abusive or hostile; and
- A reasonable victim of discrimination would consider the conduct to be more than a petty slight, trivial inconvenience, or minor annoyance.
- Also broadly defines “sexual harassment” to include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, written, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Similarly, this conduct does not need to meet the “severe or pervasive” standard, as long as it meets (2) and (3) above.
The expansion of the law means that employees in Montgomery County will be able to establish a harassment claim more easily than before, even for conduct that does not meet Federal or State standards for such claims. (Interestingly, New York State recently adopted this same standard, and we expect to see similar legislation popping up in other states). Employers covered by Montgomery County’s law should review their harassment policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the new standard.