Montgomery County Eases Standard for Proving Harassment in the Workplace

Montgomery County, Maryland recently revised its Human Rights Law as it relates to harassment in the workplace.  The new standard will go into effect on January 15, 2021.  Employers in Montgomery County, Maryland should update their anti-discrimination training programs and employee handbooks to account for the new standard.   Employers have a responsibility to take reasonable actions to prevent workplace harassment and, should it occur, they are required to take prompt corrective action.

Revised Discrimination Definition under Maryland Bill 14-201

Bill 14-201 expressly rejects the familiar “severe or pervasive” standard that applies under equal employment opportunity (EEO) federal law and replaces the standard with the more forgiving definition: “[whether] a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider the conduct to be more than a petty slight, trivial inconvenience, or minor annoyance.”   In addition, the victim must also prove one of the following elements:

  • That “submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment”;
  • “submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting the individual”; or
  • “The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating a working environment that is perceived by the victim to be abusive or hostile.”

Federal EEO Law

  • Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered.
  • EEO laws apply to all types of work situations, including harassment.
  • By federal definition, unlawful workplace harassment occurs when employees suffer severe and pervasive unwanted conduct.
  • By federal definition, while they can be upsetting, annoyances, petty slights and isolated incidents do not commonly qualify as illegal harassment. 
  • Harassment may entail “quid pro quo” which occurs in cases in which employment decisions or treatment are based on submission to or rejection of unwelcome conduct.
  • Harassment may also consist of offensive conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.