Learn the Different Types of Harassment in the Workplace
Everyone is entitled to a safe and healthy working environment. This means that, in addition to the work environment being free from any hazards that might cause physical harm, it should also allow you to work freely, without any kind of harassment from anyone.
Different states even have in place laws to safeguard employees against workplace harassment. In spite of this, workplace harassment is still a very common occurrence.
To make matters worse, many people are not aware of what qualifies as harassment, and as a result, many instances of harassment go unreported, leading to toxic and unproductive working environments.
Workplace harassment is so rampant that, according to a poll by Washington Post and ABC News, more than 33 million women in the US have experienced an instance of sexual harassment in a work environment, which is only one type of workplace harassment.
Workplace harassment can be defined as any unwelcome verbal or physical behavior directed towards someone that makes the working environment abusive, hostile or intimidating for the victim.
Harassment also includes situations where the victim has to endure hostile behavior as a prerequisite for continued employment.
To make it easier for you to identify and therefore report instances of harassment, we are going to take a look at some of the most common types of workplace harassment.
Have you ever been in a situation where a colleague made a sexual remark about you or requested for sexual favors? You might have let it slide as normal behavior, but if it made you uncomfortable, that was an instance of sexual harassment, and you should have taken action against it.
Sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of workplace harassment. For most people, sexual harassment is what comes to mind when workplace harassment is mentioned. Sexual harassment can be defined as harassment that involves sexual conduct, behavior or advances.
Is there a colleague that shares unsolicited sexual material (pornography) or views such material at work? Does a colleague make sexual jokes or comments about you or other colleagues? Does he or she ask sexual questions, make sexual gestures, touch others inappropriately or invade personal space in a sexual manner? All these are forms of sexual harassment.
Another form of sexual harassment is what is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. This is where some type of benefit is offered to someone in exchange for some form of sexual activity. This is predominant between senior level and junior level employees, where the senior level employee solicits for sexual activity in exchange for some favors.
For instance, your boss asking you to perform a sexual act on them in exchange for a promotion or preferential treatment is an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment can also be used for blackmail. According to a survey by CNBC, 19% of adults in America have reportedly experienced sexual harassment at work, with the figure being higher for women compared to men.
If you find yourself being harassed sexually, the first thing you should do is to speak up and let the harasser know that their behavior is offensive to you.
If they do not put a stop to their behavior, you should report the behavior to your immediate supervisor, or in accordance with your company’s policy for handling sexual harassment claims. If the company is unable to put a stop to the behavior, you should file an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), who will then investigate the claim and either attempt to resolve the issue or advise you to sue.
Most types of workplace harassment fall under this category. Discriminatory harassment involves situations where you are harassed because you belong to a certain minority group within the workplace. Discriminatory harassment is defined not by how it is carried out, but rather by the reason behind the harassment.
In the United States, Majority of the types of workplace harassment in this category are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Below are some common types of discriminatory harassment.
This is a type of discriminatory harassment where you are treated in a discriminatory manner because of your gender. While gender harassment is often confused with sexual harassment, the two are different. Gender harassment can happen without any sexual innuendo.
For instance, situations where another job applicant is chosen over you because of their gender, despite the two of you being equally qualified and experienced can be termed as gender harassment.
Situations where you are denied promotion opportunities because of your gender also constitute gender harassment. Gender harassment might also involve displaying or sharing material (pictures, posters, comics and videos) that are degrading to one gender, as well as making degrading comments or jokes about one gender’s ability to perform a certain task.
Gender harassment is especially predominant in male dominated industries. Gender harassment is so common that 42% of women say they faced gender discrimination at work.
If you have worked in an environment where there are people from different races, you have probably witnessed this kind of workplace harassment. Racial harassment occurs in situations where someone is treated differently because they belong to a different race, or because they look different.
This usually occurs when the race of the victim is a minority at the workplace compared. Racial harassment takes the form of racial slurs, racial jokes about the victim’s looks, accents, customs, beliefs or ancestry, racial insults, racial intolerance, disgust and degrading or stereotypical comments.
Racial harassment creates a hostile working environment for members of the affected race.
Picture this: the newly hired employee comes to her first day wearing a hijab, only for her to be told that she should not wear hijabs at work. She is also informed that she is expected to be back at her desk by 2 every day, including Fridays, which are her prayer days.
While this might seem like normal behavior in the corporate world, it amounts to religious harassment. Religious harassment is closely linked with racial harassment, owing to the fact that different races often have different religious beliefs.
However, religious harassment specifically involves showing discriminatory behavior towards someone because of their religious beliefs. This usually occurs in environments where the victim has a different religion from the majority of other employees. Religious harassment takes the form of cruel jokes about one’s religion, pressures to convert from one’s religion, and degrading comments about one’s religion.
It also involves intolerance towards the victim’s religious holidays, customs and traditions. Situations where the employer refuses to accommodate dress codes or prayer observance schedules dictated by the employee’s religion, like in our example above, also constitute religious harassment.
If you notice this kind of behavior at work, you should speak up, even if you might not be the victim.
This is a type of discriminatory harassment that occurs because of a certain disability. This type of harassment is usually shown towards people suffering from a disability, as well as to people who are acquainted with a disabled person or those who take advantage of disability benefits.
Disability harassment may take the form of segregating the victim, failure to accommodate their disability, lack of disability awareness, making jokes about the victim’s disability or making degrading comments about the victim. Failure to give opportunities to someone because of their disability is also a form of disability harassment.
For instance, if you are experienced and qualified enough for a promotion but get passed over for reasons you believe are related to your disability, you should report it as a case of disability harassment.
Sexual Orientation Harassment
Do you identify as gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer? Has someone at work ever said something demeaning or made a crude joke about your sexual orientation?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you should have reported that as a case of workplace harassment.
This type of discriminatory harassment has not been very common. However, as different sexual orientations are gaining acceptance in society and more people opening up about their sexual orientations, this type of harassment is becoming more prevalent.
Sexual orientation harassment is directed to members of the LGBTQ community (Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer people). Sexual orientation harassment takes the form of offensive comments and jokes about a person’s sexual orientation, or even directing physically threatening/abusive actions to a person because of their sexual orientation.
For instance, a homosexual man might experience this type of harassment when working in the military.
This is a type of workplace harassment where the victim is harassed because of their citizenship status or because of their nation of origin.
For instance, as a migrant, you might be treated unfairly or discriminated against despite being authorized to work within the country.
Citizenship harassment might take the form of name calling and stereotyping, making jokes and derogatory comments about a person’s nationality, or unequal treatment when it comes to getting hired, job assignments, or work benefits.
In extreme cases, citizenship harassment can even lead to termination of work. In the United States, victims of citizenship harassment are protected by The Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their nation of origin or citizenship status, provided they are authorized to work in the United States.
Age Based Harassment
This involves situations where a person is treated in a discriminatory manner because they are within a certain age bracket. This kind of harassment is usually common to workers who are above 40 years.
It also happens sometimes to workers who are too young. This type of harassment might take the form of stereotyping the victim, directing insults and teasing statements at them, criticizing them unfairly or even leaving them out of important workplace activities.
For people within the 40+ bracket, the aim of this kind of harassment is usually to push the victim into early retirement. For instance, referring to a 40+ male worker as “grandpa” or repeatedly asking him when he is going to retire can be viewed as age harassment.
This is a type of workplace harassment that involves threats of physical harm towards the victim. In extreme cases, it might even get to actual physical attacks.
Physical harassment is also referred to as workplace violence. It might be hard to believe that this kind of workplace harassment takes place in today’s modern society, yet it is something that happens commonly.
Physical harassment includes behaviors such as making threatening gestures – such as shaking your fists angrily at someone – physically attacking someone by punching, shoving, slapping or kicking someone, or even destroying property with the aim of intimidating someone.
Making gestures that are meant to be offensive, threateningly invading someone’s personal space or playing music with derogatory or offensive language are also forms of physical harassment. Such behaviors don’t have to be directed towards someone in order to be considered as harassment.
For instance, playing music with offensive language is considered as a form of physical harassment even if the music is directed at anyone in particular.
Similarly, if two employees make offensive gesture while joking with each other, a third employee who sees their gestures can complain of physical harassment.
You have probably witnessed situations where a boss has used their power to intimidate or coerce low level employees to do something.
This is abusive behavior and should be reported as an instance of power harassment. Power harassment occurs in situations where the harasser and the victim hold different levels of power within the organization.
Power harassment can be defined as a kind of behavior where someone in a superior position takes advantage of his position to cause physical or emotional distress to employees in a lower position in the office hierarchy. Power harassment can take many forms.
Does your supervisor yell at you or criticize you harshly in front of others? Does he belittle your intelligence with the aim of embarrassing you?
All these are examples of power harassment. Power harassment also involves situations where bosses provide no work to their subordinates or work that is below their level, assigning unnecessary work or work that is impossible to do, creating challenging schedules for subordinates, as well as situations where superiors try to intrude into someone’s personal life.
This is a form of workplace harassment that is based on the personal relationship between the harasser and the victim. Unlike other forms of harassment, personal harassment does not happen because of the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, religion, position in the office hierarchy, or anything else that might be a cause of harassment.
Instead, it occurs because the harasser is a bully who picks on the victim for any reason. Examples of personal harassment include making offensive jokes and inappropriate comments about someone, personal humiliation, intimidation, performing actions that are meant to get the other person in trouble, gossiping, and so on.
The worst part about personal bullying is that it can be very hard to prove, which makes it hard for action to be taken against the harasser.
People have different personalities, and in a situation people have to interact with others constantly, it is inevitable that there will be conflicts that result in a mean word being thrown here or there.
However, if this becomes a regular thing, then it becomes a form of harassment. Verbal and written harassment is very common at the workplaces and can be very easy to recognize. However, many forms of verbal/written harassment are not illegal, which makes it harder to report or stop the behavior. However, when directed at someone within a protected class, then it becomes illegal.
Verbal/written harassment includes actions such as using curse words, shouting or yelling at someone, making demeaning jokes about someone, sending emails, texts or letters with rude slurs, sending emails with offensive content, mimicking someone’s accent in a manner meant to embarrass them, or making disparaging comments about someone.
While you cannot take legal action against some forms of verbal harassment (such as yelling, cursing or making offensive jokes and remarks), you should still make a report to HR if someone is verbally harassing you to the point that the work environment becomes hostile to you.
In many cases, visual harassment does not get reported because it is not directed at anyone in particular. However, it still counts as a form of harassment if it makes another person feel uncomfortable.
Examples of visual harassment include viewing pornographic or violent images and videos at work, displaying posters with inappropriate messages, wearing clothes with offensive messages, indecently exposing oneself to colleagues, drawing or showing images with violent, derogatory or sexual undertones, and so on.
It’s good to note that sometimes, someone might display or share something without any intention of causing any harassment. Even if majority of workers find the material to be funny or interesting, it still counts as harassment if it makes another worker uncomfortable.
This is a type of workplace harassment that negatively affects someone’s psychological integrity. Psychological harassment, which is a form of emotional abuse, affects an employee’s dignity and makes them feel undervalued at a professional or personal level. It is often humiliating and is aimed at lowering the victim’s self-esteem.
Psychological harassment can be highly damaging. Undermining someone’s psychological integrity can affect other areas of their life, such as their work life, their social life, and in some cases, their physical health. Psychological harassment may make the victim nervous every time they think about coming to work.
There even cases where people have committed suicide as a result of psychological harassment.
Some examples of psychological harassment include dismissing the victim’s ideas as senseless, denying the victim any attention, spreading rumors about the victim, discrediting their achievements or giving no appreciation for their efforts, using harsh words, going against the victim at every possible moment, and so on.
Today’s world has become increasingly digital, and businesses have been at the forefront of adopting new technology in order to make operations more efficient.
Today, email is the standard means of communication in the corporate world. Departments and groups working on common projects use messaging applications like Slack, Telegram and Whatsapp Groups to easily communicate with each other. Marketing departments rely on social media to create awareness about products.
Despite all these advantages, technology has also provided a new platform for workplace harassment. Online harassment refers to situations where the internet and other digital media are used to harass, threaten or maliciously embarrass an employee.
Some examples of online harassment include:
- Spreading rumors or gossip about someone through email, group chats and social media.
- Sending emails, texts or instant messages with unpleasant undertones to the victim.
- Spreading viruses to sabotage the victim’s work.
- Sending threatening emails or messages.
- Impersonating the victim in online channels and sending messages that would cause a negative response from colleagues.
- Creating fake online content with the aim of depicting the victim negatively.
- Sharing offensive or graphic material online.
The problem with online harassment is that it can sometimes be hard to catch. For instance, if the harasser has impersonated the victim in online channels, it might be difficult to prove that it was the harasser posting the messages and not the victim.
Sometimes, the harasser might also use a medium that the victim seldom uses, thereby spreading false information about the victim without the victim’s knowledge.
This means that people need to be very careful in order to spot instances of online harassment.
Retaliation harassment occurs in situations where someone is harassed as a punishment for reporting or standing up to another type of harassment.
For instance, if you file a complaint for sexual harassment by your boss and they find a non-existent reason to fire you after you file your complaint, that is an instance of retaliation harassment. Unlike the other forms of harassment, many workers are not aware that the law protects them from retaliation harassment.
Retaliation harassment can occur as a result of an employee filing or acting as a witness to an harassment investigation, voicing his voice against ongoing harassment, defying orders they feel are discriminatory, refusing the sexual advances of a colleague or superior, asking to be have a disability or religious practice accommodated, and so on.
According to this study, 75% of victims who spoke up experienced retaliation harassment.
Examples of retaliation harassment include getting excluded from some activities, getting shifted to a less desirable position or shift, being reprimanded, getting passed over for raises or promotions, having your salary reduced, being subjected to excessive scrutiny, being given lower ratings in performance evaluations, or even termination from work.
Therefore, if you find your employer taking any of these actions after you file a complaint for harassment or act as witness in a harassment investigation, this could be retaliation harassment, which you are protected against by law.
THIRD PARTY HARASSMENT
Many forms of workplace harassment take place between people working within the same organization. The victim is usually harassed by a colleague, a supervisor or a manager.
However, there is another form of workplace harassment where the hostile behavior is carried out by a ‘third party’, someone who does not work within the organization but still interacts with employees.
The third party could be a supplier, a vendor, a client, or a customer. In most cases, the victims of third party harassment are usually low level employees, such as sales people, cashiers, and so on.
Examples of third party harassment include a client constantly flirting with an employee, a customer asking a salesperson who works on commission basis for sexual favors in exchange for business, a customer refusing to work with a certain employee because of the employee’s religious belief or nationality, and so on.
Since third party harassment is perpetrated by outsiders, it can be very difficult to spot or stop. However, it is still the employer’s responsibility to stop this kind of harassment against employees.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU EXPERIENCE HARASSMENT AT WORK
Sometimes, you will experience one of the types of harassment discussed above or more. How do you handle it? Below are some steps on how to deal with workplace harassment:
- The first thing you should do is to speak up and make it clear to the harasser that what they are doing is offensive and you will not tolerate it. Below are some examples of how to speak up to your harasser:
- “Don’t touch me.”
- “I am Sophie. Please avoid calling me sweetie.”
- “That makes me feel uncomfortable. Don’t do it again.”
- The second thing you should do is to start documenting the incidences of harassment, however minor they might be. Keep a journal of every time the harasser has done something offensive to you. If they have sent offensive texts or emails, keep copies of these. Documenting makes it easier for you in case you decide to report.
- Have a support system of people you trust and tell them about your ordeal. This way, you will have someone to back you up once you decide to report.
- If the abusive behavior does not stop even after you speak up, you should consider reporting it to your employer. When reporting, follow your company’s harassment complaint procedure to the letter. Keep copies of your complaint letter and any response you get from the company. If your company does not have any policy on such matters, make a report to HR or to your immediate supervisor.
- If the behavior continues, consider filing a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC will investigate your claim and try to get your employer to put an end to the abusive behavior. If they are unable to stop it, the EEOC will then advice you to sue your employer.
Workplace harassment is illegal, and it is the responsibility of every employer to ensure that the working environment is safe, healthy and conducive for all employees. As an employee, you should also be ready to take action against any kind of harassment you might face while at work. The first step is to know how to identify situations that constitute harassment.
Having read this article, you will hopefully be able recognize different kinds of workplace harassment that might be directed towards you or a colleague. If you notice any of the situations discussed above, you have the right to request your employer to make changes that will put a stop to the behavior.
If the employer does not take any action, you should seek legal advice from an employment lawyer, since your right to work in a safe and conducive environment is protected by law.