Most people will have an understanding of what workplace harassment is, and how it should be dealt with. At a basic level, harassment in the workplace is behavior which makes an employee feel intimidated or offended. There are, however, way too many types of workplace harassment, and sometimes it is certainly possible that a type of harassment could fall under two categories!
Many people stay silent when they experience workplace harassment, and the scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein demonstrated exactly why so many women feel a need to stay silent when they are harassed in the workplace. But, we say no more!
You should always feel safe in your place of work!
What Is Workplace Harassment?
Harassment is known as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, nationality, age, disability, personal traits, or genetic information. It becomes unlawful when enduring this offensive conduct becomes a condition to continue the employment, or if it is severe or pervasive enough that it creates a work environment that one would consider to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
In short, harassment can make work life very uncomfortable for some people, and many may even enjoy their job as it is but detest going to work due to the endurance of harassment in the workplace.
There are a few things that this harassment could be. Soon, we will look into the many types of workplace harassment and how you can tell what behavior constitutes what type of harassment.
Workplace Harassment laws
In the United States of America, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Anti discrimination laws prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceed, or lawsuit.
Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents, unless they are extremely serious, do not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the harassing behavior must create a working environment that most reasonable people would deem intimidating, hostile, or offensive. Offensive conduct can include behavior such as offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling, epithets, physical assault, threat, intimidation, mockery, insults, offensive objects or pictures, and interfering with work performance.
What Constitutes As A Harassment In The Workplace?
There are many types of harassment that can occur in the workplace, from sexual harassment, to violence, discriminatory harassment, bullying, cyberbullying, third-party harassment, and more.
Here are the different types of harassment, and the actions that fall under each of them.
This type of harassment focuses on the areas in which discrimination are often found, this can be a discrimination against race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or age. Discrimination is taken very seriously these days, and equal employability leaves room for no discrimination.
Discrimination is taken very seriously, and discrimination in the workplace is viewed as illegal action.
The law forbids any racial discrimination when it comes to absolutely any aspect of employment whatsoever. This includes hiring, firing, pay, assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, or any other condition of employment. Regardless of race, employment conditions stand for everyone, equally.
Racial harassment can include incidents such as racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about color or race, or racially offensive symbols. Although teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents are not considered to be very serious, harassment is illegal when it is frequent or creates a hostile/ offensive work environment, or in the case that it should result in an adverse employment decision such as the victim being fired or demoted.
Gender harassment is different from sexual harassment. Gender discrimination described two potential unlawful workplace behaviors. The first involves the making of decision that confer an employment benefit based solely on the gender/ sex of the employee. Some examples of this can be the refusal to hire a woman, giving a woman a promotion over a man, or paying women less money than men to do the same job.
The other type of gender/ sex harassment is sexual harassment, however we will touch on this more later.
Gender harassment can also include derogatory remarks, insults, offensive jokes, and so forth regarding a person’s gender.
While a majority of cases of gender harassment are committed against women, men can also be victims of gender harassment too, and there have been cases of this happening.e in the employability or attitude towards employees in the workplace.
The EEOC defines there to be two kinds of religious harassment that can happen in the workplace. One of these would be the requirement of employees to abandon or change their religious beliefs as a condition for employment. The other would be unwelcome and pervasive comments or behavior in regard to the persons’ religion that creates a hostile or abusive environment to work in. For behavior to qualify as harassment it must be severe enough, or widespread enough, to be considered as intrusive to the sanctity of the workplace.
To clarify, if other employees are discussing their religious views, this is not harassment even if someone else finds this offensive. However, if derogatory or hostile comments are repeatedly directed at another employee regarding their religion, this is harassment.
In the United States of America, disability discrimination is something that occurs when an employer, or another entity that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act, treats a qualified individual who is an employee or applicant unfairly due to their disability.
This can also occur when a covered employer or other entity will treat an applicant or an employee with less favor due to a history of disability, i.e. a past severe depressive episode. Or in the case that they are believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory, and minor.
By law employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or applicant with disabilities, unless doing so would cause a significant difficulty or an expense upon the employer, this would be viewed as ‘undue hardship’.
Sexual Orientation-Based Harassment
Sexual orientation in the workplace is something that occurs when an employee is subjected to negative employment action, harassment, or denial of certain workplace benefits due to their sexual orientation, or that of someone they are close to. This type of discrimination has been part of the workplace in the USA for decades, and while social awareness as well as federal and state laws have improved the situation, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community still suffer obstacles at work.
Harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation can affect job status, environment, health benefits, as well as your feelings towards work. Harassment based on sexual orientation means to treat someone differently solely due to their perceived sexual orientation.
Age harassment involves offensive or unwelcome conduct in the workplace that is based on a person’s age- age 40 or above. The harasser could be anyone, from a supervisor, co-worker, or even clients or customers. Age harassment can include age-based jokes or comments, cartoons, drawings, symbols and gestures, or any other expression of verbal or physical conduct based on an individual’s age.
Personal harassment is a behavior that is abusive, unfair, or demeaning in treatment of a person or a group of persons that is known or ought reasonably be known to be unwelcome or unwanted. In cases such as treatment abuses the power that one person holds over another, when the behavior has the effect of being seriously threatening or intimidating to a person, or in the case that the behavior creates a hostile or offensive working environment.
There are a few sub-categories to personal harassment, these are as follows;
If your colleague, supervisor, manager, or even a customer says something that immediately makes you feel uncomfortable, this would count as an inappropriate comment. They may think they are being funny, but the comment may be offensive, sexist, racist, or otherwise.
Not every case of this is harassment, sometimes it can just be a mistake, or a one-off mishap, however, if this continues, or if you tell the person that this makes you uncomfortable and is inappropriate, and they persist then this becomes harassment.
Jokes can become offensive when they target a specific person, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age group or nationality. Jokes can also be offensive in the sense of bullying, where jokes are told at another person’s expense. While similarly, a one off instance of this may be a mistake, but if these jokes persist then this becomes harassment, as the person is knowingly creating issues in the workplace.
If you are educated in toxic relationships, this is a behavior that most will know is wrong. Workplace humiliation can occur in a variety of ways, for example an employer could insult, or embarrass an employee in front of other employees. Similarly, a co-worker could make rude or humiliating remarks towards another employee. Not only does this make work conditions uncomfortable, but it is also degrading an individual publically in front of others. Otherwise, known as public humiliation, which inside and outside the workplace is viewed as a form of emotional abuse.
While in the workplace, it is understandable to give constructive criticisms, as sometimes it can help to improve work and understanding of the job. However, not all criticism is constructive and when it is not, it can reach the heights of becoming harassment.
Constructive criticism should be built in the format of praise, notifying the flaw with a passive tone, and an appreciation of work. Employees/ People should not be singled out, and it is best to refrain from the use of ‘you should not’, ‘you don’t’, and so forth. Critical remarks often target one person specifically. It is important that, in the workplace, employers and employees alike refrain from turning constructive criticism into potentially over critical personal attacks.
Ostracism in the workplace could also be referred to as ‘out casting’. Ostracism is the situation of being excluded or dismissed in a group. In the workplace, this could be when an employee feels ignored or sidelined by other employees in the workplace. It could also happen through ex-communication, silent treatment, silent bullying, and office harassment.
This is simply the act of being excluded. Motives can be personal or professional, but regardless, this is a form of harassment.
This is dangerous because it can often consist of verbal insults or threatening gestures. It is also hard to prove as others will not admit it has happened. You may be purposefully ignored, deprived of information, left off of email distribution lists, ignored at meetings or not informed of meetings and so forth. This type of harassment should be dealt with by employers as soon as it is noticed.
Intimidation tactics can be wide in variety, it can include bullying, threats, humiliation, and in some cases it can even involve half of the above types of harassment. It will take a toll on the employee’s career, finances, and health. This behavior can even be illegal, and it can result in criminal and civil penalties for those who perform this intimidation.
Intimidation can be as simple as making jokes, and out casting staff members. Making threats, or criticizing them. The victim is clearly targeted and intimidated by the person in one, two, or more ways.
Physical harassment which is also often referred to as ‘workplace violence’ refers to a type of harassment in the workplace that includes physical attacks or threats. In extreme cases, physical harassment may be deemed an assault.
Physical gestures such as playful shoving can blur the line between being appropriate or not, as it is the receiving person who will decide whether they are comfortable with this behavior.
Direct Threats Of Intent To Inflict Harm
A direct threat with intent to harm is exactly what it sounds like. This can be a verbal threat connoting physical violence, or a person getting too close to you with the intention of threatening you.
Physical Attacks (Hitting, Shoving, Kicking)
The most obvious of the threats would be a directly physical attack in which your body is subject to harm by another person, whether it is hitting, shoving, kicking or any other form of physical attack, this is considered to be an immediate issue and can often be considered illegal, resulting often in trails, or at the very least a suspension while there is an investigation.
Threatening Behavior (Shaking Fists Angrily)
This could also be called physical intimidation, if for example someone were to get into your personal space and shake their fists, point at you with verve, or slam their hand down on your desk, this would be considered threatening behavior. In short, if it sends your body into fight or flight mode. It is not okay.
Destroying Property To Intimidate
The destruction of property that is not by accident would also be known as physical harassment. If a co-worker were to damage your property to intimidate or antagonize you, this would be considered physical harassment. Any destruction of your property that is not an accident is viewed as wrong.
Power harassment is exactly how it sounds. These are harassment, often carried out by superiors that are unfair to their employees.
Excessive Demands That Are Impossible To Meet
Should an employer make demands that are literally impossible to meet, such as requiring unpaid overtime to complete them, illogical in their nature, or otherwise unrealistic, this would be considered power harassment, as the person is abusing their power to make the victims’ life uncomfortable.
Demeaning Demands Far Below Employee’s Capability
On the flip side, if an employer were to repeatedly set tasks for the employee that are way below their ability, this would be viewed as power harassment. They may be doing so due to a general distaste for the employee, or to make them feel low or unqualified. This would not only be power harassment, but a form of emotional abuse.
Intrusion Into The Employee’s Personal Life
Intruding into the personal life of an employee is wrong, work should be left at work, and intrusion into someone’s personal life is considered to be a breach of privacy, regardless of the status of the person intruding. Being an employer does not allow a person to snoop in other people’s private lives outside the workplace.
Psychological harassment is any form of harassment that can affect mental health, and can often borderline workplace gaslighting.
Isolating Or Denying The Victim’ Presence
Isolation or denial of the victims’ presence would also be known as ostracizing, as we previously viewed. This will affect the victim’s mental health and will often also impact their work ethic and perhaps their financial status and life outside the workplace.
Belittling Or Trivializing The Victim’s Thoughts
This is also known as gaslighting, to belittle or trivialize the victim’s thoughts is to make them feel as though their opinions and feelings are not valid, as well as making them question their own validity as a member of the workforce.
Discrediting Or Spreading Rumors About The Victim
This is, without a doubt, bullying. Spreading rumors or causing harm to the social status of the victim is considered to be harassment. Spreading rumors will damage the person’s comfort at work, and they will suffer for it. If someone is spreading rumors, it is time to take the situation further.
Opposing Or Challenging Everything The Victim Says
Challenging everything someone says will become emotionally exhausting for the victim and will make them feel their opinions and thoughts are invalid. This sits on the border of gaslighting, and can easily lead to mental health decreasing in the victim.
With technology all around us, it is important that we tackle the fact that bullying does not only happen face to face, but often online now too, even among colleagues and employees.
Share Humiliating Things About The Victim By Mass Email Or Mass Chat
If it is considered to be public humiliation to humiliate someone in person, it is also considered to be public humiliation if you do this online as well. Humiliating a person in front of multiple people at once is considered to be public humiliation and is harassment.
Spread Lies Or Gossip About The Victim On Social Media
Much like rumors and gossip face to face is considered to be harassment, it is also the same online, even on social media. Even if this is done outside the workplace, doing so is still considered to be harassment of the workplace.
Send Harassing Instant Messages Or Text Messages Directly To The Victim
To send any harassing content to a person is harassment, regardless if it is inside or outside of work. This behavior is unnecessary and harmful to the mental health of the victim. If you receive harassing messages from someone at work, it is important that you instantly bring this up with a manager, or HR.
Retaliation harassment is a very subtle type of harassment that is often overlooked. This occurs when someone harasses another person in order to get revenge on the person and prevent the victim from behaving in such a way again. This can be in the sense that if an employee files a complaint about a coworker, this coworker finds out about this complaint and the employee who made it. The coworker then harasses the employee to get revenge and deter them from filing further complaints.
Sexual harassment is something that is being combatted more and more these days, and it has been uncovered that it happens way more than you may think. There are varying types of sexual harassment in the workplace and to stop it out we must understand what they are.
Sharing Sexual Photos (Pornography)
The sharing of sexual images is forbidden in any work environment. This can mean viewing pornography at work, sharing pornography at work, or even using images of a co-worker as ‘revenge porn’ in the workplace. All of these are a serious offense inside the workplace.
Posting Sexual Posters
Any posting of sexual content in the workplace is widely unacceptable. The only instance in which sexual content may be allowed is in businesses within the sex industry i.e. clubs, adult stores, lingerie companies. It is still advised that any sexual content must be approved before use, even in these circumstances.
Sexual Comments, Jokes, Questions
Making sexual comments, jokes, or being intrusive into the sex life or sexuality of another person at work is highly inappropriate and will more than likely make the victim uncomfortable. This can range from jokes about sex, asking about a person’s sex life or sexuality, and more.
Inappropriate Sexual Touching
Any physical touch that is unwanted is invading a persons’ privacy, however inappropriate and unwanted sexual touching is considered to be sexual harassment. This is not okay in any circumstances, least of all within a professional working environment.
Inappropriate Sexual Gestures
Sexual gestures can be a variation of things, however if someone is making gestures that can be deemed sexual, such as motioning with their pelvis, or motioning to your body, and it makes you uncomfortable, this is not only inappropriate, but it is also harassment.
Invading Personal Space In A Sexual Way
The invasion of personal space is never okay in the workplace, it is important to remember that personal space is a right. However, should a person invade your personal space in a sexual way, such as purposefully getting to close, or pushing themselves up against you, this IS sexual harassment. While in certain crowded spaces physical contact is bound to happen, such as bartending in close quarters, there is a clear difference between accidental and unavoidable invasion of personal space and intentional and sexual invasion.
Third Party Harassment
Third party harassment is a type of workspace harassment that is perpetrated by a third party, this means the harasser is outside the organization. This could be a vendor supplier, client, or customer of the company. This means that if a customer enters the store and harasses the staff, this is third party harassment.
Verbal harassment can often be the result of conflicts in personality that have escalated beyond tolerance. It is not discriminatory, so it is often not illegal, instead this is when someone is consistently mean or unpleasant. This can be particularly damaging as it often goes unresolved. This can include yelling, insulting, cursing and can also include some of the other types of harassment we have listed above.
What To Do If You Are Being Harassed
Speak To The Person Who Is Harassing You Directly
Before you take matters further it is important to speak to the person harassing you directly, they may be unaware that their behavior is causing problems and informing them of the negative impact, as well as warning them to stop the harassment before it gets out of hand.
Speak To Your Manager
If this does not work, it is time to talk to your manager. Be sure to do this in private and ask for full confidence. After this, the manager should resolve the issue.
Speak To HR
If speaking to the manager does not fix the problem, then this may need to go further. You can take your harassment case to human resources to resolve the problem at hand. This will likely lead to an investigation into the behavior of the person if serious enough.
Take Legal Action
In the event that neither of these things work, be ready to take legal action. Depending on the type of harassment that you are experiencing at work, you will have to take different routes.
While it is scary to have to take things this far, it is important that you do to prevent the issue from continuing for yourself and others.
Tips For Employers To Stop Workplace Harassment
Develop An Effective Anti-Harassment Policy
Every business should have an anti-harassment policy. In fact, one of the best ways to do this is to outline this policy in the work contract. This means a code of conduct.
Doing this as well as having a policy in place that staff are aware of can help to minimize the change of harassment in the working environment.
Assess And Mitigate Risks In The Workplace
Keep an eye on the working conditions and be aware of how your staff communicate with each other. Being aware of the social structure of your employees will help you pick up on any signs of harassment, as well as give you foresight before harassment may occur.
Know What To Do When A Complaint Is Made
Have a plan in place in the case that a complaint is made. Should a complaint come in, it is imperative that you are confident in how you will tackle the problem and rectify it smoothly. In the case that the harassment is severe, having a mental health officer/ trained member of staff to assist in these situations can be highly beneficial.
Train Your Staff
Staff should not only be trained in regular duties, but also in the code of conduct, such as how they should communicate with each other and customers. Doing a conflict resolution team training session can also help staff to know how to deal with harassment should it occur from colleagues or third parties.
Be Careful Who You Hire
Background checks and references are useful for this. Checking applicant history with previous employers, and checking databases for information on the person, is highly important in ensuring that you will not hire someone who could cause grief in the workplace. While equal opportunities are important, if someone has a criminal background or has a history of suspension due to harassment complaints, it is best to avoid hiring them for the contentment of your workforce.
Workplace harassment is a serious issue, and it can range from petty comments to sexual assault, discrimination, and illegal behavior. A spark can easily turn into a roaring fire if it is not stomped out fast enough, and so it is important that employers and employees alike do all they can to combat workplace harassment.