DC Law Expands Protections Against Hostile Workplace Harassment

Washington, D.C.’s antidiscrimination law has been extended to thousands of people who work as independent contractors in the district. In addition, the law’s protections against hostile workplace harassment have been strengthened and broadened.

The District of Columbia Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act of 2022 prohibits employers from discriminating against independent contractors on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, age or other specified personal characteristics. The amended law now protects freelancers, outsourced and contract workers and gig workers.

Additionally, the amended law gives D.C. some of the nation’s strongest prohibitions against hostile workplace harassment. Such harassment includes conduct that unreasonably alters the terms, conditions or privileges of employment or has the purpose of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Such conduct may be verbal or non-verbal and may be direct or indirect.

Moreover, hostile workplace harassment may be found to occur even if the conduct:

  • Was only a single incident
  • Was directed toward a person other than the complainant
  • Did not prevent the complainant from completing employment responsibilities
  • Did not cause tangible physical or psychological injury
  • Occurred outside the workplace
  • Was not overtly directed toward a protected characteristic such as race or gender

Due to these broad criteria, the D.C. law offers more protection against hostile workplace harassment than Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. Specifically, Title VII defines a hostile work environment as one that is “permeated with” discrimination “severe or pervasive [enough] to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment.” By contrast, the amended D.C. law allows for a finding of unlawful harassment based on a single incident, even if that incident didn’t alter or prevent the victim from doing their job.

Under the amended law, independent contractors who experience any form of workplace discrimination have a private right of action. They can file a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights or take their case straight to civil court, just as wage earners can do.

Employers, employees and independent contractors should all take time to understand their rights and obligations under the amended D.C. law. It is a complex statute that can be difficult to understand, so don’t hesitate to seek legal advice.

At Cashdan & Kane, PLLC, we advise and represent employers, employees and ICs in employment related matters. If you would like to speak to our experienced Washington, D.C. lawyers, please call 908-264-9331 or contact us online at your convenience.