Defining the Different Types of Workplace Harassment

Defining the Different Types of Workplace Harassment
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Harassment at the workplace can be a difficult and distressing environment, especially if you or several employees are the victims. While there are laws to protect workers from the different types of workplace harassment, most victims aren’t aware of what constitutes harassment and aren’t sure how to go about not only preventing it, but making sure that it doesn’t happen.

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is the use of physical, verbal, or written contact that either degrades, shows hostility, or aversion on the basis on gender, sexual preference, race, political affiliation, color, or disability. This has the potential of disrupting an employee’s work performance, their chance at compensation or employment opportunities, or creating a hostile work environment. This type of behavior is prohibited and prosecuted under the United States Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Law.

There are several different types of workplace harassment, though the most prevalent are sexual and racial harassment. Others include age, religion, disability, and sexual preference.

Types of Workplace Harassment

Sexual Harassment - sexual harassment is when an employee is subjected to demeaning, offensive, and inappropriate physical, verbal, or written conduct of a sexual nature by another person, usually somewhere in a higher position than the victim. There are two types of sexual harassment - quid pro quo and a hostile work environment.

  • Quid Pro Quo is where an employer offers or withholds compensation or benefits in exchange for sexual favors. Often the employee is told their career can florish or be in trouble if they do not provide sexual favors.
  • Hostile work environment is where inappropriate behavior makes an employee uncomfortable in their jobs. This includes unwanted physical touches, sexual jokes or innuendos, or comments that are unsolicited by the employee.

Racial Harassment - racial harassment is when an employee is subjected to demeaning, offensive, and inappropriate conduct based on their racial identification. This includes addressing the employee in a derogatory way (using a derogative slang word) or telling derogatory jokes.

Age Harassment - age harassment is subjecting an employee to demeaning, offensive, and inappropriate conduct based on their age. This includes addressing an employee in derogatory way.

Religion, Disability, or Sexual Preference - these types of harassments are when an employee is subjected to demeaning, offensive, and inappropriate conduct based on their religious practices or beliefs, a disability (like speech, physical, or mental disabilities), or who they choose to love.

Is It Harassment?

Knowing if you are being harassed at your workplace is dependent on your work environment. Problems often occur when an employee cries harassment for something that was unintentional or due to miscommunication. The workplace environment holds many different people that hold many different ideals about things; everyone comes from a different background and may say or do things that they are not aware are offensive to someone.

The first thing you should do is to approach the person that has offended you. Speak to them in a stern, but friendly manner; let them know that their comment was either hurtful to you or that you were offended. Often times, the person may not be aware that anyone was offended by their joke or by physical contact. It is also important - if possible - to find out about the working environment before you are hired for a position. Some offices may engage in friendly teasing or flirting that employees do find appropriate; if this is behavior that you cannot or will not work around, you may want to seek out another working environment.


But what do you do if you have spoken to the offender and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of them listening - or stopping - their behavior? If possible, speak to a supervisor or manager; if the offender is someone in a higher position then yours, speak to their immediate supervisor. You do have options in order to stop the behavior, including legal action. However, you should consider all options before taking legal action if possible.

The first option is to try and work out an agreement by following the harassment policies set by the company. If you find no resolutions and the environment begins to escalate to hostile or even threatening behavior, you may have to consider legal action. Because there are many types of workplace harassment, make sure you understand what harassment entails and how your work environment handles this type of behavior.

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