Many people aren’t aware of how many different types of harassment occur in the workplace. What may seem innocent or harmless can actually be, or have the potential to be, harmful to both the mental well-being of workers as well as their work productivity.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commision (EEOC) released detailed research which reveals that between 25% and 85% of women have experienced some form of workplace harassment. Men can also be the victims of harassment (including that of a sexual nature) and 43% of men say they have also experienced some form of workplace harassment.

How Is Workplace Harassment Defined?

The different types of harassment can be quite numerous, but all harassment normally falls into four categories:

  • Verbal
  • Written
  • Physical
  • Visual

In a recent 2018 study by Stop The Harassment, they found that 51% of women had been the victims of unwelcome touching or groping in the workplace; 17% of men say they also experienced the same unwelcome physical contact at work.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that workplace harassment is discrimination that violates federal law and defines harassment as any unwelcome verbal or physical behavior based on:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Gender or Gender Identity
  • Religion
  • Status as a veteran
  • Nationality
  • Political Beliefs
  • Genetic Information
  • Age
  • Disability or Mental Impairment

Harassment can occur between opposite sexes or same sex co-workers. A boss can harass a subordinate and an employee can harass their boss. Understanding what is and isn’t harassment can be tough at times, but the EEOC states the law clearly:

  • The offensive conduct is a condition of employment or continued employment
  • The conduct is severe enough or extensive enough that a reasonable person would consider it hostile, abusive, or intimidating
  • If a superior’s harassment results in an obvious change in a person’s status in the workplace or their salary, that can be considered unlawful

What Does Workplace Harassment Look Like?

The different types of harassment can all look different, but they all have the same elements: they are unwelcome and harmful. The four categories of harassment: verbal, written, physical or visual can be seen in the following types of ways. The behaviors are by no means inclusive but representative of the types of things which can be considered unwelcome or unacceptable in the workplace. Some of them can be subtle, while others are obvious:

  • Sending emails to another co-worker making insensitive jokes about someone’s religion or accent or asking them for a date or sexual favor. Sending them religious or political articles, pictures or other like material through email.
  • Wearing clothing depicting highly charged societal or political divisiveness meant to target a person or group. Hanging pictures in a cubicle depicting anything of a sexual nature, watching videos depicting sexual or violent acts while at work.
  • Derogatory comments about the food someone eats, the way their hair is styled, the size of a physical attribute, asking someone about their genetic history or sexual history, derogatory comments about someone’s identity or political beliefs.
  • Making obscene gestures with the hands or mouth, touching someone’s person or possessions, standing too close to a person, making sounds that are offensive or suggestive. Whistling, cat-calling, moaning or any other sound that is offensive.

These behaviors can be committed by anyone (boss or co-worker) and can be directed at anyone. There are many reasons why harassment occurs and harassers use bullying tactics for: psychological manipulation, sexual gratification, plays for power and dominance, feelings of personal inadequacy, and even depression.

What Do I Do If I’m Being Harassed In The Workplace?

If you are being harassed in any way in the workplace by anyone, the most important thing is to get it to stop. That means reporting the harassing behavior to a person or entity that can get it stopped and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The following steps should be taken in any order you feel they need to be taken, if you are experiencing any of the different types of harassment:

  1. Remain calm and collected. You want the behavior to stop not create more drama for your situation.
  2. Keep excellent and detailed notes about what is happening to you. If you should need to take your case to court, your notes can assist your attorney in proving your case.
  3. Tell the person harassing you to immediately stop whatever behavior they are doing that you feel is an harassment.
  4. Report the harassment to your immediate supervisor. If your superior is the one causing the harassment, go to their supervisor.

There is an end to the unlawful behavior of harassment. Retaliation for reporting harassment is also illegal. According to the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak, unlawful retaliation can come in may forms, such as being “denied a promotion, demoted, fired, transferred to an unfavorable job or [facing] other action as punishment for exercising a legal right.” If you take appropriate, legal steps to stop your harasser, and he or she retaliates against you, then you have grounds to prosecute them.

The worst case scenario is that it has dissolved into an unbearable environment and a job change is necessary while you pursue the report of harassment. The best case scenario is that you advise this person their behavior is unwelcome and harmful, and they cease their harassing behavior immediately, allowing you to move forward in your workplace.

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