What Is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is a pattern of abuse that contributes to making the workplace an unfriendly environment. That conduct is unwanted and can be judged by a rational person as hostile. Oftentimes, the victim is made to feel that acceptance of the behavior is a condition of continued employment.

Keep in mind that harassment is a continuous effort by the harasser to make the victim feel powerless. A casual joke or one-time off-color comment does not constitute harassment. The victim does not always have to be the person being harassed, in many investigations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the victim was another worker that felt threatened by the daily harassment of another worker, supervisor, someone in management, or even an assigned contractor in the workplace. Some claimed mental anguish wondering if they would be next.

Every workplace should have an environment that is free of discrimination and harassment directed at a particular employee or group of employees due to their race, color, sex (to include pregnancy), national origin, or age (if over 40). In fact, it is an employer’s responsibility to workers to provide a stress-free environment absent of harassment, to provide written guidance on how to prevent harassment, and how to report incidents.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to protect employees from discrimination and harassment, and assigned the EEOC oversight of the program. Additional protections have been added since then to protect workers from harassment, such as disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identification.

Regardless of the situation, no employee should have to face daily harassment because their lifestyle is different than the harasser or their physical characteristics do not match. Harassment is unacceptable in any work setting.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment involves any form of physical or verbal actions, sexual advances, or requests for sexual favors. Additionally, unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace could be based on pregnancy, actual or perceived sexual orientation of the worker or friends and acquaintances of the worker. Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment. It is not only limited to gender. Also, women and men alike can be the sexual harassers.

Gender identification harassment

Harassment in the workplace may also occur when an employee is harassed based on their actual or perceived gender identification. Harassment based on gender identification may occur at some point during an actual gender re-assignment. This can be a particularly stressful time for the person being harassed. It may also occur when employees or employers make hurtful jokes regarding one’s gender on a continuous basis even though you have told them their behavior is unacceptable if it continues it is unlawful harassment.

Racial harassment

Unfortunately, racial harassment is one of the most common forms of harassment. It arises when coworkers, supervisors, or employers treat employees differently based on their racial characteristics. When someone is harassed based on their race to an extent that it affects their attitude and the decisions their employers make about them, this can escalate to a point where the person being harassed does not want to go to work anymore. This is a hostile environment and would most likely be judged as illegal racial harassment.

Disability harassment

Harassment on the basis of disability involves the mistreatment of individuals by an employer or other employees just because they have a history of disability or because they may have had a history of missing work due to illness caused by their disability or disabilities. Disability harassment may arise during hiring, firing, payment, promotions, or even in awarding employee benefits.

Religious and national origin harassment

It is unlawful to harass anyone based on their perceived or actual national origin or religion. Religious harassment is based on a person’s perceived or actual religion, and may start because someone wears a Yarmulke or Burka to work. Name-calling, threats, and intimidation are oftentimes the next steps for the harassers. Religious harassment becomes illegal when it is so severe that it creates a hostile environment.

Harassment due to genetic information

Harassment may also occur due to the accidental or intentional release of genetic information pertaining to an employee or a family member of an employee. However, slight comments and jokes about the information are not considered illegal, but the intentional release of that information could very well have been illegal. Harassment and jokes that continue and affect the morale of the worker may be considered unlawful. Once again, the person who is the focus of the harassment should inform the harasser that it is unacceptable.

Steps to take when harassed

When a person is facing harassment in the workplace, they do not have to tolerate such behavior. There are both state and federal laws against harassment. These are the immediate steps you should take to end harassment and feel safe once again in the workplace:

  1. Inform the harasser their attention is unwanted.
  2. Check your Employee Handbook for guidance.
  3. Inform the harasser in the presence of their supervisor.
  4. File a formal complaint with management.
  5. File a formal complaint with the EEOC.
  6. Document all steps you took, dates and times of incidences, witnesses present, and as much detail about the incident as possible.

No one should have to face harassment in the workplace. A person should properly document the harassment so they have a strong case if legal action becomes necessary.