Workplace Harassment

Sexual Harassment

In the workplace, sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual conduct creating a hostile, offensive, or intimidating environment. Sexual harassment can also include creation of a hostile environment from language, physical contact, or offensive materials and may encompass gender and sexual orientation inclusion. An employer can be held liable for harassment committed not only by employees but also by a non-employee such as a vendor or customer.

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone and take many forms:

  • Implications that an employee will lose a job if the employee doesn't sleep with him or her
  • Demeaning or sexist comments made about one co-worker to other co-workers
  • Inappropriate sexual jokes told in the workplace
  • Inappropriate touching - such as pinching or fondling - in the workplace
  • Explicit language or jokes sent through email or intranet bulletin boards

Sexual Harassment can be prevented by conducting sexual harassment training to get employees talking about their work environment. Adopt a clear policy in your employee handbook and enforce those policies.

Other Harassment

While sexual harassment is a widely known and serious workplace issue, harassment is a much broader problem. Simply defined, harassment is any pattern of behavior considered threatening, offensive, or damaging.

Among other types of harassment which may occur in the workplace:

  • Racial Harassment - unwanted or unwelcome words or behavior intended to demean or degrade someone based on their race.
  • Religious Harassment - unwanted or unwelcome comments or behaviors intended to discriminate against or demean someone based on religious beliefs or practices, including forced participation in conversations or discussions.
  • Hazing and Bullying - while two different aspects of harassment, they are similar where physical or psychological abuse is done in a deliberate manner to intimidate another who is considered an outsider or inferior by one or more people.
  • Psychological Harassment - any behavior which negatively targets another's self-esteem whether through words, gestures, or actions. This can also include staling and mobbing. Stalking entails unwanted surveillance while mobbing involves actions by a group against an individual.

Harassment and the Law

There are many levels of harassment, with consequences varying by severity of the offense. Harassment is prohibited by state and federal law. If you believe you are a victim of workplace harassment, it's vital you speak with a local employment attorney.

In order for harassment to be a legal offense it must:

  • Be based on a legally protected status: sex, race, religion, disability, and (in some states) sexual orientation
  • Be severe or pervasive enough to alter terms of employment
  • Be Quid Pro Quo - or "this for that"; the harassment must exchange the threat for a physical work benefit.

If you feel you have been harassed, you must speak up. Workplace rules and regulations may be broader than federal law. However, federal law does protect the victim from retaliation by the employer. You cannot lose your job or be otherwise punished for reporting harassment.

You will need legal advice and help with your harassment case. You need your situation reviewed by a qualified employment lawyer. You shouldn't tolerate workplace harassment, and you are not alone.


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